Monday, January 31, 2011

60-Second Syntax: Serial Comma

60-Second Syntax is a quick look at some common mistakes in writing.

Please note: Different editors may follow different styles and rules.

Today, we’re talking about the serial comma.

A serial comma is the comma that appears before a conjunction when listing a series.

Example: Her lunch consisted of an apple, peanut butter, and a bottle of water.

The highlight shows the serial comma.

Chicago Manual of Style advocates the use of the serial comma. Others, such as the AP Style Guide, chose to eliminate it.

What this means to you, the writer, is that the choice is yours as to whether or not to use the serial comma. Whatever your choice, just make sure that you are consistent throughout the manuscript. Also, be aware that an editor may ask you to add/remove the serial comma to conform to the publisher's house guide.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Author Insides - Alison Ross

Clockwise Cat publisher and editor Alison Ross dabbles delicately in verse. She also spews incessant invective. You may peruse her precious poesie and rowdy rants online. Alison's personal utopia would be to dwell inside a painting executed by Joan Miro, wherein Frida Kahlo, Arthur Rimbaud, Jorge Luis Borges, Dr. Seuss, David Lynch and The Cure all converge in felicitous, surrealistic bliss. Her poem, "Kahlo Sky," was recently nominated for Best of the Net by Up the Staircase.

Alison's poetry appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

At the age of six! I was obsessed with magazines geared toward very young kids, like Jack and Jill magazine. I regularly wrote in my diary, and I wrote short stories and poems.

Why do you write?

Because I don’t know how not to write. Cliché, but the damn truth!

Alison Ross Reads "Miro's Scream" from Jeff McCord on Vimeo.

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?

Frankly, I never imagined how it would be. I’ve always been a writer, so I’ve never had time to actually think about how it would be, because I have existed this way for so long.

What do you think makes a good story?

A philosophical core and crazy characters.

What's your favorite genre to read?

Currently, poetry, but I also love progressive non-fiction, such as Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein, etc.

Who is your favorite author or poet?


What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?

Les Fleurs du Mal (Baudelaire), Les Illuminations (Rimbaud), 100 Years of Solitude (Marquez), random books of verse by Neruda and Borges.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?

Great question! That would have to be books of verse by Rimbaud. He taught me that you can be colorful and chaotic without chagrin.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?

I am inspired by listening to loud music, watching a David Lynch film, or looking at a painting by Kahlo, Miro, Goya, Basquiat, Dali, etc. All forms of art inspire me, but the visual arts take special precedence. In fact, I am also very into street art and street fashion. On the other hand, I listen to a lot of music on my way to work, and that inspires my creativity as well. Ruminations on time and mysticism further inspire me.

What does your family think of your writing?

They like it, but I think they find it rather cryptic. Both my parents are English teachers and rather well-versed themselves, but moreso in the classics.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

What work schedule?

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?

I have no rituals whatsoever. I do write polemics and reviews regularly for my webzine, but my poetry writing is extremely erratic. I write it on a whim, when the fever grips me. As far as quirks – I sometimes write poetry at work, as a way to procrastinate, or in the car, after I have pulled over because a particular phrase or imagistic idea has captured my imagination.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

I find it excessively challenging to say authentically exactly what I want to say. I have to relax into my subconscious to be able to do so. There are only three or four poems of mine I am wholly satisfied with.

What are your current projects?

Other than my writing for and editing Clockwise Cat, and submitting poems periodically, nothing.

What are you planning for future projects?

I would like to publish a book of poems in 2011, but we’ll see. I tend to be too unfocused to be able to get anything of any consequence done, other than my webzine.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Be more disciplined than I am.

Where else can we find your work?

Counterexample Poetics, Up the Staircase, Word Riot, Eviscerator Heaven, Bolts of Silk, Blue Fifth Review, Cerebral Catalyst, Laika Poetry Review, Disingenuous Twaddle, Haggard and Halloo, Wings of Icarus, and a few others. Also I have a poem appearing in the anthology entitled, Chopin With Cherries.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Submission advice

There are two major pieces of advice I can offer to any writer when it comes to submissions:

1 – Proofread. Have someone else proofread. Proofread again.

2 – Read and follow ALL submission guidelines.

These two steps can save you from automatic rejections before an editor/agent even gets past the first five pages.

Editors realize writers are human and sometimes typos happen. But if your query letter and summary are riddled with grammatical errors and misspellings, odds are the editor/agent isn’t going to bother to read your manuscript it. And above all else, make sure you spell the name of the editor/agent/publishing company correctly.

Submission guidelines exist for a reason. Agents, editors and publishing companies expect you to read them and comply with them. Usually submission guides are three-fold: guidelines on what the editor/agent/publisher is looking for, accepts or will represent; how they want you to send the submission; and formatting guidelines.

The first part is extremely important. Do not waste your time and the time of an agent/editor/publisher by sending a manuscript that doesn’t fit the posted criteria. If they don’t represent fantasy, do not send an agent your latest vampire novel, no matter how literary you think it may be.

Try to familiarize yourself with the agent/editor/publisher. What other titles have they acquired/represented? What authors do they represent? Does your manuscript fit in? Is it a genre they publish/represent? If it is a literary journal, check out a back issue to see if your story is appropriate. Also pay attention to word count. If they only publish flash fiction, don’t send your 3,000 word story.

People in publishing can get annoyed when writers don’t bother to read the submission guides and send work that isn’t appropriate for them. Don’t get into the crapshoot mentality of thinking that even though your manuscript isn’t what they typically represent/acquire, that the agent/editor will fall deeply in love with it that they will just have to grab it up. It won’t happen, because they won’t read it if it doesn’t fit the type of work they represent/are looking to acquire. You are better off spending your time looking for agents/editors who are appropriate for your manuscript then simply blanketing the publishing world.

The second part of submission guidelines usually entails preferred formatting submission. Sometimes these rules are extremely detailed in regards to fonts, margins, spacing, point size, etc. Sometimes, they simply say use Times New Roman and double space.

If you are submitting work to someone who has a list of formatting rules, be sure to follow them exactly. The publisher/editor/agent has reasons for this and some will summarily reject your work if you don’t abide by these rules.

Editors/Agents/Publishers also specify how they want to receive a manuscript. Some use online submission programs, others request attached documents in a specific format, and still others may want a hardcopy mailed. Whatever the agent/editor/publisher states is their preference, follow it.

Remember, first impressions count. Don’t do yourself a disservice by setting yourself up for an automatic rejection by not having another set of eyes look over your manuscript or by not taking a few minutes to read and adhere to submission guidelines.

Finding the right editor/agent/publisher is worth the extra effort.

Monday, January 24, 2011

60-Second Syntax: Hyphens and Dashes

60-Second Syntax is a quick look at some common mistakes in writing.

Please note: Different editors may follow different styles and rules.

Today, we’re talking hyphens and dashes and when they should be used.

For starters, here’s a visual to demonstrate the difference of each. Notice that each punctuation mark gets slightly longer as you go down the list.

A hyphen: –
An en dash: –
An em dash: —

To create a dash in Microsoft word, go to the Insert tab and click on “Symbol.” There you will find the en and em dashes. Simply click on the symbol you want, and it will appear in your text.

Hyphens are used to create compound nouns or modifiers; to break up a word at the end of a line; as a separator for numbers that are not inclusive, such a phone number or social security number; and for words that are spelled out.

Example: The social security number of the girl with the peed-on-snow[i] blond hair is 123-45-6789. Her phone number is (555) 555-5555. She is totally p-h-a-t!

En dashes are used to separate inclusive numbers such as in years, measurements, ranges, dates, times, etc.
Example: Her weight from 1999–2006 fluctuated between 120–140 pounds.

Em dashes are used for break outs in text (instead of parentheses or commas) or to show an interruption or a sudden break in dialogue. Note: Whether or not a space is inserted before and after the em dash is a matter of house style.

Example: My favorite quote from “America’s Next Top Model” — Bitch done spilt beer on my weave — surprising pops up in many a conversation among my peers, though no one actually has a weave.
Example: “Jimmy and me were conversating[sic]—” “What do you mean Jimmy and you?”[ii]

Random dash trivia: The term “em dash” refers to the width of a capital M in whichever typeface you are using. An em dash is as long as the M is wide. And en dash is ½ the width of an em dash.

[i] This lovely adjective is courtesy of the snarky folks at Television Without Pity’s “America’s Next Top Model” forum.
[ii] This gem was courtesy of some Jersey hair salon show I flipped passed one day and was mesmerized by the new vocabulary that was being created.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Author Insides - Jacob Russell

Jacob Russell lives in South Philly, grows tomatoes and herbs in the little strip of a garden in front of his apartment, and reads his poems in the subway concourse with his Spirit Stick, Inihiti. He's currently working to complete a second novel and seeking a publisher for a MS of poetry. He manages the literary blog, Jacob Russell's Barking Dog at work has been performed by InterAct Theatre and appeared in Criiphoria 2, Conversational Magazine, BlazeVox, Scythe, Salmagundi, dcomP Mag, Pindeldeyboz, Pedestal, Philadelphia Stories, Apiary and other literary venues.
Jacob appeared in the Autumn 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase.
Jacob, When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

A simple question, so complicated in so many ways. I’ve always written: poetry, journals, attempts at essays, fiction. There was a time in adolescence when I thought in those terms—about ‘being a writer,’ but I was always more involved with other things: painting, ten years working as a potter, sporadic attempts at scholarship and many wasted years pursuing a skewed idea of respectability (never to the slightest degree of success!). My decision to put my writing first wasn’t about ‘being a writer;’ it was like a personal conversion to a task of a lifetime. I had begun to exchange poems with someone on a BBS (this was 1986), and it all came together: that this is what I was going to do from that moment to the end. I was almost 50, but told myself that 20 or 30 years of concentrated effort would be enough to make a body of work. The emphasis was on doing. The ‘Being’ would have to take care of itself. Twenty-three years later, over the course of the last year, poetry has begun to bleed into my sense of identity. I find that I am writing myself into a new life, that “being a poet” and making poetry are interdependent and inseparable. The feather and sash I attached this past May Day in Baltimore to the walking stick I carry for my half ruined leg, the stick which has evolved into my Spirit Staff, marked that second turning point: becoming a poet. If I live another 20 years, I might just make it.

Why do you write?

What else am I to do with my time? What else could serve to draw up and set to account almost 70 years of living?

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?

I never imagined that this would require so many hours managing the task, preparing and keeping track of submissions, archiving my works-in-progress in a way that I could find and use, and sometimes complete them, working on performance skills, choosing my reading to advance my understanding and feed my curiosity and passions. So much in writing that involves other stuff—so much thought and preparation—this I couldn’t possibly have imagined.

What do you think makes a good story?

I’m not interested in ‘good stories,’ I’m interested in how to subvert received ideas about what makes a good story, and avoiding the traps.

What's your favorite genre to read?

Anything that makes me rethink and re-evaluate my assumptions about reality, and about the conventions that constitute any genre.

Who is your favorite author or poet?

Who or whatever makes me want to rush from what I’m reading and begin writing myself.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?

I’m almost 70. I’ve been reading like an addict since I was four.

A question impossible to answer. I’d have to go back to particular turning points in my life, from childhood to the present.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?

Many philosophers, from Plato to Levi Bryant. Whitman and Dickinson, The 20th C Modernists: Wolfe, Joyce, Svevo, Gombrovicz, Kafka, Oppen, Rider… so many more.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?

Philadelphia has in recent years nurtured an amazingly vibrant and varied world of poets and poetry. It’s been one the great privileges of my life to have lived long enough, and to be a part of the rich creative endlessly stimulating and inspiring community of poets here. I’ve heard more than 150 poets at readings over the last year and a half alone, local, national, and a few international voices. There are more readings each week than it’s possible to attend. I’m moved and humbled beyond words—being so much older than most, and such a late bloomer, at how graciously I’ve been accepted into this wonderful circle of Philly poets.

What does your family think of your writing?

I come from a family of many artists. Those few who are left except my life as normal.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

I try to begin each day with a quarter to half an hour meditation, than read poetry for another half hour or so. I write down things I want to do during the course of the day (I’ve learned not to assign amounts of time or arrange things in any particular order). Then I do my best to work all these things into the day: several hours of reading, writing, study, transcribing journal entries, managing submissions.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?

I find that adherence to routine leads only to a need for longer and longer naps

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Learning not to scold myself for procrastination… that the work of writing mostly takes place away from the desk.

What are your current projects?

Ha! I can’t hear that word without thinking of Dorothea Laskey! “Poetry Is Not a Project!”

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I don’t believe in generic advice of this sort… how could anyone give advice to someone they don’t know?

Where can we find your work?

I have links to my published poems on my blog: Jacob Russell’s Barking Dog, and regularly post works-in-progress. I find that revising and editing in public, ‘stimulating,’ … like, come look at this dirty old man open his coat and show you his naked poems!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Author Insides - JM Huscher

JM Huscher is an English teacher and sometimes writer living in Budapest, Hungary. He co-founded the Nebraska Writers Collective, a 501.c that was instrumental in creating new extracurricular programs to support middle and high school language arts students across the state. In 2009 he collaborated with four poets from Berkeley, California, eventually taking top honors in the National Poetry Slam’s group work competition. He has read in 24 states, independently published several books of poetry, and recently began work on an autobiography about immigrating to post-Soviet Eastern Europe with his amily in the early 90s.

JM appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase .

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I started writing stories when I was in the fourth grade. They were mostly about me discovering that I had the power of flight. My friends used to beg me to put them in the stories, so I’d have to add to the endings with something like “Then Jeff and Josh tried it, and they could fly too.” The stories just got longer and more complicated as I got older. I guess if you’re asking “when,” then the answer is “when I knew I would never be able to fly.”

Why do you write?

It’s impossible to answer this question without sounding like an aloof, pseudo-intellectual jerk, but I’ll try: I think I’d go nuts if I quit writing. It’s the way in which I try to make sense of the world and the people in it. I write because there are still things that I want to understand but don’t.

Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be?

Absolutely not, but that’s a good thing. I always used to imagine writers as terribly isolated people with severe drinking problems. That’s not the case at all—I have lots of friends.

What do you think makes a good story?

Good characters. If I think back to the good books I’ve read, it’s always the characters that stand out. Not the plot. Think about On the Road. Nothing happens in that book. They’re not solving crimes or dismantling bombs or anything. They just wander around and get drunk and stoned, but the book has staying power because it’s full of fascinating characters.

What’s your favorite genre to read?

This changes all the time for me, but I’m definitely on the prowl for books with an interesting narrator. If the back of the book says something like “told from the perspective of a…“, I’m a hundred times more likely to pick it up and take it home.

Who is your favorite author or poet?

My friend Dan Leamen is a writing genius, and I’m fascinated by everything that comes out of his head. He’s still at the beginning of his writing career, and he’s already doing stuff with poetry that shouldn’t even be possible. You can find his work in several magazines, and you can read his poem “Limoncello” is online Brink Magazine.

What books or stories have influenced you the most as a writer?

The Same Sea by Amos Oz just about made my head explode. I think I bought it because it was on one of those “employees recommend” racks. I remember reading it and thinking, I didn’t know you could tell a story that way. John Steinbeck also had a huge impact on me. The way he was able to turn a 400-page story on its head in the last paragraph—I really dug that.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?

Moby Dick. Hands down. That book changed both what I thought about God and religion as well as what I thought about what writers could talk about without actually coming right out and saying it. I’ve been re-reading it and exchanging emails with my best friend and a former professor about it, and it’s been amazing to see how this old book about whaling has led us into conversations about everything from nationalist political movements to endurance races.

Where do you find the most inspiration?

The radical right and vintage two-stroke scooters. Seriously.

What does your family think of your writing?

I called them to ask, and they all say that they haven’t read much of it. That was a little scary to hear since most of it is about them. I’m interested to hear what they think, but I don’t want to spend too much energy worrying about it. I don’t want my writing to pull any punches. That sounds really awful, doesn’t it?

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I write, but I’m not a professional writer. I work 40 hours a week at a regular job and have to find time outside of that to do writing. When I’m really into a project, I dedicate a little time at the end of the night and then a full day on both Saturday and Sunday. It’s difficult to be a serious writer with only the time that’s left over, but I’ve learned to use all of my time well. I’ve gotten pretty good at outlining a story or enumerating a few revisions in my head while I’m away from the keyboard.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?

I find it helps if I am wearing brand new socks (the ankle-high ones) and if my pant legs are rolled up. I probably get about 60 percent more work done when my shins are exposed. I also talk to myself. I think giving myself the freedom to be a bit of a crazy person while I’m writing makes the process bearable.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

There is always a reason not to write. The most challenging aspect of writing for me is treating writing like a hobby that I can leave alone for days or weeks at a time. It’s especially difficult if you’re friends with a lot of non-writers, because they might not understand why you’re insisting on sitting alone in your dark apartment on a Thursday night so you can type out hypothetical future legislation regarding time-travel.

What are your current projects?

I just finished writing a full-length manuscript about growing up overseas (“Divided and Conquered,” is part of that book), so the next thing is to launch into that long and painful process of looking for a small press or an agent to get it in print. I’ve also been taking notes for a few short stories. One is about a girl who falls in love with a robot and has to write him love letters in Pascal programming language.

What are you planning for future projects?

I want to have a blog where I post a picture what my hair looks like every single morning. I have the craziest bed head of anyone I’ve ever met. No joke. I have a few non-daily-bed-head-blog ideas floating around, too. None of them involve dinosaurs. A few of them involve riding bicycles. Most of them involve robots. All of them involve shenanigans.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I should be the last one anyone takes advice from. I learn everything by failing at it first. Having said that, almost every writer I’ve ever met is looking for some sort of short cut. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, is that there aren’t any. You can’t skip reading great writers. If you’re not taking in anything good, nothing good will come out. You can’t just write once a week or once a month and expect great ideas to end up on the page. You can’t avoid the good editors—the ones who will rip your work to pieces. You can’t avoid submitting to presses full of authors who are bigger and better than you. At every turn in the process, you have to choose the steeper path. I don’t believe in talent. I believe in persistence.

Where else can we find your work?

My bed head blog is at

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to know what you write

If you are a writer, you’ve heard it, read it, and probably said it at least 1.47 million times: Write what you know.

I cannot stress how important that phrase is. You cannot fudge facts. If you try to write about something you do not know or understand, and you get something wrong, at least one, if not thousands, of readers will know it’s wrong, and you will lose trust with your readership.

This doesn’t mean that if you are a dentist in Kentucky that you can’t write about a stockbroker in New York. But what it means is that you had better actually visited the NYSE, spent some time with a NY Stockbroker, and be well educated about the market and industry trends and jargon. And you had best have that book vetted by someone in the industry, specifically a NYSE broker, to make sure you got it right.

I’ve interviewed hundreds of authors throughout the years. One question I always ask is what type of research they did for the book. No matter what your book is about, some type of research will be needed. None of us are omnipotent; we all need to double-check information. It could be anything from confirming the rates of a taxi cab in LA to taking a judo class so you can accurately describe a fight scene to spending two years poring over historical documents to create a period romance in King Henry’s court.

The key to research is to knowing your source. Let me give you a tip: Wikipedia (along with, and other sites) should not be your go-to sites for information. These sites are edited or written by the masses. Accuracy is debatable and writers’ credentials could be questionable. A person writing about a specific cancer medicine on one of those sites may not have a medical background. They may have simply searched the Internet for their response, and who knows what source they used for their answer. Remember, just because it is on the Internet, it doesn’t make it true.

For example, last night I stumbled across “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” and I couldn’t remember who provided the singing voice for Jessica Rabbit. I knew the speaking voice was an at-the-time unaccredited performance by Kathleen Turner. I figured it would be easier to Google “Singing voice of Jessica Rabbit” to get the IMDB page that go to IMDB directly and take the extra steps to navigate to the correct page. (It’s not that I am that lazy, it’s just that I have horrible Internet access, so the more direct, the better.) Turns out Amy Irving did the singing. But while scrolling down the search results, I was surprised at how many sites credited Jessica Turner as the voice of Jessica Rabbit. One site probably got it wrong, and then the misinformation continued to spread because people did not go to a creditable industry site for the information.

So what constitutes a creditable source of information?

- A person(s) working in the field/ or have been in the situation your character is in

- Official organization/society/industry sites and the people who run them

- Official organization/society/industry journals

- Newspapers and news magazines

- Official documents

For example, if you were writing a story about a woman who discovers she has breast cancer, options for your research could include: visiting a cancer treatment center/hospital; talking to a cancer patient and her family, an oncologist and/or a cancer researcher, depending on your needs; visiting the Center for Disease Control, American Medical Association, Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic websites; reading the Journal of American Medical Association, New England Journal of Medicine, and related articles in The New York Times, Time magazine, and Newsweek.

The point is you have to know the credentials of the person/source from which you are getting your information. Are they the best source of RELIABLE information? They need to know so that YOU can know.

And with due diligence and good research, you don’t have to worry about someone reading your book and dismissing you as someone who obviously doesn’t know what they are talking about, because you will be writing what you know.

Monday, January 17, 2011

60-Second Syntax: Quotation Punctuation

60 Second Syntax is a quick look at some common mistakes in writing.

Please note: Different editors may follow different styles and rules.

Quotation Punctuation

Commas and periods always go inside the quotation marks. Semicolons and colons go outside the quotation mark.

Examples: "Whatever," he sighed.
Her latest book is titled "Beam Me Up."
She hated being label "Goth," and she really hated "Metal Head."
She hated being labeled "Goth"; she preferred the term "rebel."

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Author Insides - Adam Moorad

Adam Moorad appeared in the Autumn 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase. Adam lives in Brooklyn and is the author of The Nurse and the Patient (Pangur Ban Party, 2002), Prayerbook (WTF PWM, 2010), Oikos (nonpress, 2010) and Book of Revelations (Artistically Declined Press, 2011). Visit him here:

Adam, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Probably when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. I would write poems and stories, illustrate them, and then staple them together. The first poem I wrote was about a toad that lived in a pile of wood. The first story I wrote was about a farmer who found a diamond ring somewhere. Most of it was plagiarized from other children’s books.

Why do you write?

Multiple reasons – some good and not good. I think my writing is rooted in the need to feel affirmed. I’ll write a story and send it out until someone decides to publish it. Whenever this happened I feel a sense of affirmation in a way my job and relationships can’t make me feel. There is the sense of success or achievement or progress in it all – however small.

Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be?

No because I don’t really view the writing life with any preconceived notions of what it is – probably because I don’t really think of myself as a “writer.” Writers are these mythical beings to me – people with Barns & Noble displays cases for perfect bound books with interesting cover art and Oprah Book Club stickers. It’s fantasy, so why even bother?

What do you think makes a good story?

Strange, stylish writing. An odd plot. The truth.

What's your favorite genre to read?

I’m drawn to experiments, articulated failures, and strange victories. These take many different forms within many different genres. I’ll read any of them.

Who is your favorite author or poet?

Ana, Brandi, Beeny, Jason, Rachel Glaser, Sam Pink, xtx. Jack. I read an Anelise Chen story yesterday and really liked it. David Lynch. Dave Berman. Zach Galifianakis is a true poet. Any one published in 3 A.M., elimae, The Lifted Brow, or Thieves Jargon warrants favoritism.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?

Tao Lin’s short story collection, Bed, really resonated with me – more so than his other stuff. Because of this, it’s a book I return to frequently. The first time I read it I think it articulated a lot of things that I wanted and needed to know about honesty as a sad and brutal thing. It did so effectively and confirmed a lot of things I already felt. Overall, I think it made me think more sharply in terms of writing.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?

Hubert Selby, Jr. – Last Exit to Brooklyn really shattered my view of life in relation to writing. There are only a few books written by junkies that come across loud and clear as this. This is one of them. Shit. Its weight has never left me.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?

From mountains, deserts, dry leaves, red meat, dead roadside deer meat, roads, water towers, water bottles, water.

What does your family think of your writing?

I don’t know. I think they mostly read bibles and biographies. One Christmas, my sister gave me a self-help book. I don’t read or write any of those things.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

I work 9 am to 5 pm. I write every evening until my girlfriend throws a fit. If I manage to avoid alcohol, I can write for a one or two more hours after she falls asleep.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?

Tobacco was once a requirement, but not anymore. I was crippled by hypochondria. I’ve moved on.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

As in life – getting over myself.

What are your current projects?

A novella. 20k words. I think it’s one or two drafts from completion. I’ve taken a lot of chances with it. Several excerpts have already been published in places online, like The Battered Suitcase. I already know no one will publish the consolidated work.

What are you planning for future projects?

I plan to self-publish a book of poetry sometime. If I can do this successfully, I’d like to do the same for some other likeminded writers. With that said – I have no idea how to do any of this.

Do you have any advice for other writers?


Where else can we find your work?

Google me. Email me. Visit me here:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Author Insides - Andrew Cothren

Andrew Cothren's short story, "The Drowning Plagerist" appeared in the Autumn 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase. Andrew is a recent graduate of Binghamton University, where he received his Bachelor's Degree in Creative Writing. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming in The Teahouse Review and Quintessential Zine. Originally from the Hudson Valley region of upstate New York, he currently resides in Brooklyn.

Andrew, When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I took a Creative Writing workshop in my freshman year of college and realized that it was the first time I actually enjoyed having deadlines and creative work assigned to me on a weekly basis. It was much more appealing than, say, a twenty-page essay on Barthes or a laboratory report for a Biology class. Writing had always been at least an occasional hobby of mine, but being inundated with it on a regular basis made me realize just how much I enjoyed it. The fact that I still feel that way reassures me that I’ve (probably) made the right career choice.

Why do you write?
Storytelling is, in my opinion, the oldest profession on the planet (in spite of the popular opinion about another, very different line of work), yet we still seek out new stories and characters to spend a few minutes or hours with. Despite all of the technological advances of civilization, that demand is still out there and still needs to be met. If I can make just one person live vicariously through one of my stories or characters, then it will make every second spent writing worth it.

Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be?
Very much so. I’m only a few months removed from graduating from college, so all of the warnings my professors and friends have given me about that initial, early-20s failures and rejections are still fresh in my mind. As are the actual failures and rejections. In spite of those, though, there’s still something exciting and satisfying about clicking “Send” on a submission e-mail or sticking an envelope in a mailbox. I guess I’m still quite doe-eyed about the whole thing.

What do you think makes a good story?
A good story has to haunt the reader. Not in a horror-movie way, necessarily, but it needs to be weighing somewhere on their conscience for at least a little while after they read it. Whether it’s a particularly bizarre image, or a character’s bad decision, or if it reminds them of a feeling they haven’t felt since childhood, there has to be something that the reader can’t shake in order to be effective. If you feel the need to tell somebody about the story you’ve read or if you have a debate about the ending of a movie you and your friends just saw, then you’ve experienced something very special.

What's your favorite genre to read?
I’m drawn to magical realism stories that border on the speculative but never quite cross over. A man turning into a cockroach overnight is great, for example; dragons and wizards, not so much. Any story in which the fantastic and impossible are accepted as mundane and everyday fascinates me.

Who is your favorite author or poet?
In my opinion, there’s nobody writing today that has as diverse a range as Joe Meno. He has a great, distinctive style, but at the same time he can write about damn near anything and bring it to life. He can dabble in the absurd one second, and then emotionally devastate you the next. The Boy Detective Fails is the one book I re-read whenever I’m feeling particularly uninspired. Great writers can both inspire and depress you with their natural ability to write better than you ever could, and he’s definitely in that category for me.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
The Boy Detective Fails is probably the biggest influence. I found it at random in a bookstore when I was maybe fifteen, and it left a big impression. I was a big Encyclopedia Brown fan when I was a young kid, and to see that genre turned on its head in the way Meno did made it clear to me that everything in fiction, down to the most familiar trope, is always malleable and can be made new. Many times, whatever I’m reading at the moment inspires what I’m writing: for example, my story “The Drowning Plagiarist” was inspired by being completely entranced by Glen David Gold’s Carter Beats the Devil. A lot of the books I was reading when I first started getting into books probably shaped my writing in a lot of ways, too; things like The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, or the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
I owe a great debt of gratitude to my parents for getting me into reading in general at a young age, and for introducing me to writers like Kurt Vonnegut and John Irving once I was old enough to appreciate them. I remember being entranced by Welcome to the Monkey House after I got it as a Christmas present and finishing it in just a couple of hours. I was completely drawn in by Vonnegut’s style and cynicism. Even when his stories are complex, he still guides you through with a very colloquial and disarmingly kind voice. He puts his hand on your shoulder while telling you that the world is a terrible, awful place, which is comforting in a way. Irving’s been inspiring, too, both philosophically and as a writer. The way his books serve as biographies of his characters is also affecting; even though our own existence may not be as intriguing as those of Homer Wells or T.S. Garp, we can take comfort in knowing that, like them, we live full lives surrounded by those that care about us, in spite of the occasional ether overdose or political assassination.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
For me, ideas usually come in the form of a single line or image from an overheard conversation, or a dream, or something else throughout the day. Stories come about when I try to bounce those tidbits off of each other to see what works together or can inspire characters and plot. I do the same thing with whole stories that I’m not pleased with or aren’t going anywhere; I’ll sell the best portions for scraps to other, in-progress stories.

What does your family think of your writing?
They’ve been nothing but supportive. My siblings and I have always been encouraged to follow our creative passions, and it means a lot to have that parental love behind you when you’re just starting out in the competitive world of writing and publishing.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I’m one of those people that keeps very odd hours. I feel like my works best very late at night/early in the morning, so I’ll usually start writing at around 1AM and go until I feel tired enough to sleep. The biggest thing I need to work on is making my writing a regular habit, even if I’m uninspired. That will come with time, hopefully.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
Most of my writing-related weirdness stems from the music I listen to while working. When I’m starting something new, I need instrumental music that isn’t quite classical, so I listen to a lot of Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Rachel’s, Clogs, and others. Once I’ve gotten a story down on paper, though, I like to assign different music to each character or situation. Giving everything a theme song just works for me. It sort of grounds these creations of mine in something tangible and listenable.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
For some reason, I find it difficult to write without constantly proofreading as I go. I need to work on just letting things flow in that initial burst of writing so that I can come back and make changes later. I also tend to abandon ideas too quickly sometimes. If something’s not working, my first instinct is to scrap the entire thing rather than to let it sit for a while and return later. Again, it’s just a matter of adjusting myself from writing creatively for college credit to writing as a line of work.

What are your current projects?
I’m currently working on a few dozen short stories of various lengths that will hopefully coalesce into some sort of collection at a point down the road.

What are you planning for future projects?
I try to not look too far ahead to the future, but I have been bouncing an idea for a novel around in my head. It would be inspired by thrillers like The 39 Steps where the everyday man gets caught up in some international conspiracy, but would take place in a world like The World Beyond in The Phantom Tollbooth, perhaps with fewer puns and wordplay. Again, very preliminary and slightly insane.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
The only group of writers I feel at all qualified to give advice to would be college undergrads who are thinking about going into the world of writing: it will be difficult for a while once you’re out there on your own, but there is something thrilling in the not knowing and in finally breaking through and getting published. The rewards certainly outweigh the disappointments.

Where else can we find your work?
Another of my stories, “Storage” will be in the next issue of the Susquehanna Review. I’ve also just started a blog ( that will feature stories, reviews, photos, and anything else I can muster.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Social Networking for Authors

Social Networking is one of the best ways to meet new people that share your interests and values, including your love of creating and sharing stories. After you’ve established a base author website and it’s set up and you’ve optimized it, it’s time to go out into the world, meet interesting people and invite them back to your place for a party.

Take some time first to construct a standard “Profile” for yourself. This is the “about me” page that you’ll use in every online social situation. You’ll want to chose just one author photo, icon, or avatar and use it consistently throughout the Internet. Most people are very visually oriented and they’ll begin to associate your picture with your written voice quickly. Your “face” will be familiar to them and that familiarity lends credibility to your posts.

Outline some basic info to use on all your profiles: picture, bio, blurb, location, website address, email (use your author email--not your personal email), etc. Have all that info handy first, perhaps in a separate folder on your computer to help you stay organized, so when a new social forum opens up, you won’t have to scramble to take advantage of it. Call it your “networking” folder.

One of the first places you want to set up profiles is in authors’ communities. Authors are usually friendly types and like to help each other out, share contacts and promote each other. If you’re not already a member, check the following communities out and set up an author profile. Make sure you keep track of your login name and password. Keep them in your Networking folder.

Writers Communities

Book Lovers Communities

Newsgroups/Discussion Groups/Forums

Join newsgroups, discussion groups and forums for fans of your genre and set up your sig line to promote your author website and your book sales page. There's still plenty of active ones on Yahoo Groups, Live Journal Communities, Usenet, Topica, Delphi Forums and EasyNews.

Author Pages

Amazon's Author Central
GoodReads Author Program:
Library Thing Author:
Author HobKnob:

Consistent and regular participation with positive and helpful post and response, as well as live and active back-links to your author website, will help bring more exposure to your work and your author brand.

Happy Networking!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Get submitting!

Start the new year off right by submitting your manuscripts.

Not sure where to start? There are two excellent websites that every writer should have bookmarked.

The first is This is the most well-respected site for finding a publisher or agent for your short story, novel, poem or article. Writers Market publishes several annuals, covering everything from the short story market to children’s writing to finding agents. The problem with the print version is that the industry changes so fast, with new companies opening and old ones folding on a near-daily basis, that sometimes the print version is outdated before it hits the shelves. The online version is updated constantly and worth the money. Note: If you do purchase the Deluxe Writer’s Market print version, it includes a one-year subscription to the online version. Online, you have the option to subscript to all databases, or just specific ones such as agents or poetry markets.

Another handy site is It’s somewhat like Writer’s Market lite for fiction and poetry. It also offers publication submission information, though the database isn’t as substantial as Writer’s Market. The nice thing about Duotrope is that it is free. If you are looking to rack up pub credits quickly, Duoptrope is a good place to start.

Now for some personal pimpage. Vagabondage Press is currently accepting novelettes, novellas and novel submissions.

VBP is seeking well-written literary fiction of 12,000 to 100,000 words that explores the human
experience. We hope to provide a safe space for authors who've gone under-appreciated because the industry has led them to believe that they don't fit a particular format. We hold no editorial bias in regards to stories for or about individuals of any race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or planet of origin. Vagabondage Press LLC is a royalty paying digital and print publisher.

Categories of submissions include:
  • Novelette: 12,-25,000 words
  • Novella: 26,000-50,000 words
  • Novel: 50,000 +

We are primarily interested in literary fiction, but women's fiction, erotica, romance, fantasy, magical realism, humor and other genres will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

When sending a manuscript, please follow submission guidelines. This means you MUST include a synopsis, or your work will automatically be rejected.

Monday, January 10, 2011

60-Second Syntax: Comma Splice

60-Second Syntax is a quick look at some common mistakes in writing.

Please note: Different editors may follow different styles and rules.

A comma splice is a fairly common error in which a comma is used in place of the word "and" to join two independent clauses. Splices are easy to fix. Replace the comma with a semicolon or keep the comma and add the conjunction back in the sentence.

Wrong: Sally took off down the street, Jim followed.
Right: Sally took off down the street; Jim followed.
Sally took off down the street, and Jim followed.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Author Insides - Magen Toole

Magen Toole is an arts student and odd-jobber from Fort Worth, Texas, writing short queer and speculative
fiction. She lives with a cat named Ginger and a turtle named Filbert, both of whom have more say in her life than she does.Her short stories have been featured in Everyday Fiction, Kissed by Venus, Everyday Weirdness and others.

We love Magen's short/flash fiction and she's appeared in two issues of The Suitcase, May 2009 and in the current Winter 2010 issue.

Magen, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

When I was seven-years-old, or thereabout. I made a habit of harassing children’s magazines and newspaper writing contests with my short stories, and outlining my memoirs on notebook paper for future generations. By the time I was fourteen, I was sending literary critiques of my favorite comic books to the letter-to-the-editor pages, until they wised up to me and started sending them back unopened. Sometime in my first college semester my English comp. professor said something about doing this for a living. It’s been downhill ever since.

Why do you write?
I don’t have any other real marketable skills, to be perfectly frank. I jumped from degree program to degree program in college, trying to find something to turn into a profitable career. I was determined to do something stupid in a cubicle for forty hours a week, until I felt like I was living a justifiable adult life. It didn’t work out, obviously, so here I am. That’s the practical answer.

The nice, literary answer is that I am a constant observer of the world, both the natural and the manmade. I come up with hypotheses about the things that I see, and I investigate them through fiction until I come up with a fully realized statement. It’s how I process the world, and come to terms with it. I go out looking for questions, and then write until I find the answer. It may not be the right answer, but it’s mine.

Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be?
I don’t remember not being a writer. It’s difficult for me to imagine life pre-writing, let alone how it would compare to my life now. That said, to be honest I really don’t know what it even means to “be a writer.” It’s just something I’m learning how to do a little bit every day.

What do you think makes a good story?
In my experience, in order to write a good story, you should care about your subject above all else. Examine it from every angle, tease out all the possibilities, determine the best way to pursue it, and then give it hell. Don’t just write it just to sell it, take the time to say something and mean it.

What's your favorite genre to read?
I like to read weird fiction, dark fiction, surreal fiction, scientific study articles, children’s book, mythology books, history books. A little bit of everything.

Who are your favorite authors or poets?
Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, H.P. Lovecraft, William Gibson.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
The Waiting by Jorge Luis Borges, Idoru by William Gibson, Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx, and Watchmen by Alan Moore. When I’m stuck on something I’m working on, I always think back to these stories to try and come up with a new way to approach the problem.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
I grew up reading comic books, and watching lots of bad television and genre films. Science fiction, horror fiction, super hero fiction, Star Trek and the various permutations therein – those are the things that have informed me as a person. I love how well genre fiction masks its lofty literary and mythological archetypes, and can usually get away with saying interesting things without making the reader feel intimidated or talked down to. It’s something that I really try to strive for in my own work.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
Art, photography, film, documentaries, philosophy, the natural sciences, horror movies, science fiction, bad television – a bit of everywhere. I rarely find inspiration in books, which people tell me is strange. I tend to investigate the visual arts and scientific fields for my ideas instead. I don’t have a “muse,” as other people claim to. I hypothesize, develop theories and explore them until I have a complete understanding behind the story I want to tell.

What does your family think of your writing?
They’re all very supportive, and open to debate, which is nice. My youngest brother and I are quite close, and we bounce story concepts, subtext and metaphors off of one another. It’s nice to have that kind of sounding board, because no one is as brutally honest about your bad ideas as your family.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I try to steal time in the morning and at night to type up my manuscripts. When I’m at work or away from my computer I keep notebooks with me to write longhand, that way I always stay busy.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
I like to watch movies, documentaries and television when I’m writing longhand in my notebook. I just like to have background noise when I’m working, in order to have a steady stream of information to digest. It keeps my brain moving, processing new ideas as I go along. Kind of like how sharks have to keep swimming or they’ll die? That’s basically how my mind works.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Trying to make it the way it is in my head. I come from an arts background in my education, so while writing comes naturally, I never learned the principles in the same rigorous, structured way I had to with art. Every story is like a film in my head, and trying to make literature visual and cinematic is hard because I lack the physical tools to bring it to a screen, canvas, or photograph. I have to improvise, and make the reader see what I’m seeing. It’s frustrating sometimes. It makes me work that much harder on every story, to make sure the finished product is something I can wholly visualize as a reader.

What are your current projects?
I’m working on my first novel at the moment, a dark fiction/psychological horror story called Flesh Trap. It’s about an insomniac library cataloger named Casey, who finds himself at the heart of a peculiar series of disappearances and deaths that are tied to his childhood home, beginning on the twentieth anniversary of his father’s murder. Even as he tries to solve the mystery unfolding around him, Casey is haunted by visions of his father’s corpse, a living reminder of the sins and secrets that Casey still suffers for. He’s either going to find a way to stop it, or he’s going to go mad trying – that is, if his therapist doesn’t kill him first.

What are you planning for future projects?
I’ve been developing a queer literature/romance novel called The Diving Bell for the past few years, which is where the characters Noam Patel and Elliot Townshend from the short stories These Creatures of Habit and The Pea-Coat originate from. I keep coming back to it, writing it out in bits and pieces. One day I’ll finish it.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t let the expectations of others dictate the value of your work. That’s something I had to learn the hard way.

Where else can we find your work?
I’ve been published a little bit of everywhere over the past two years, both online and in print. My website,, has my complete publishing history, as well as snippets and excerpts from my novel and other projects.