Saturday, April 27, 2013

Process? - Guest Post from April L. Ford

April L. Ford

As a creative writing teacher, I am a font of advice for my college students; I can talk about process until I turn purple.  As a practicing writer … what’s that about process, you asked?

I’ve been writing professionally since 2002, and unless I’m romanticizing my past, I had a more inspired and energetic strategy at the start of my career than I do now.  It consisted of coffee, chocolate bars, cigarettes, and compulsion.  I wrote my first successful short story that way—on a weekend binge, to be exact—and then two more later that year.  And I’m talking long short stories, almost novellas.  My practice was to write whenever the urge seized me, to put everything aside (including college homework) and sit at the computer until I had purged all the good stuff.  That worked fine when I was in my early-twenties and single; now that I’m in my mid-thirties, married, a full-time caregiver for a parent with dementia, and a college teacher, I have to be more methodical.

Last November I was flipping through an issue of Poets & Writers magazine and came across article about one author’s process.  She trumpeted a computer application called “Freedom,” which one can use to block Internet access while one writes.  You tell the application how long you plan to write sans the distraction of online shopping, and the only way you can access the net is to save your work and restart your computer—there’s no way to log out of Freedom.  Brilliant!  I downloaded the application for an easy—and worthwhile—ten bucks and was on my way.  I set it for two hours and set a goal of writing one thousand words.  Success!  I repeated this the next day and the next, and suddenly it was a month later and I had succeeded in writing more than a hundred pages of my first novel, Gentle.

Setting aside specific days and times also helped me.  As writing is not yet (and may never be) my primary source of income, I don’t have too many ideal time slots in the week from which to choose.  So for me, three weekday mornings (usually every other) for two hours (6:30 – 8:30 seems to work best) has proved to be my most successful writing schedule yet.  I wake up, eat breakfast, brew coffee, and then sit at my computer and activate Freedom right away—I don’t permit myself to read emails or the daily news.  After my two hours are up, the day is mine; knowing I don’t have to fret about my writing for the next 22 hours is a welcomed stress-reliever.  Think about how much time writers spend thinking about writing; it’s a necessary part of the process, but I dare say many of us spend more time fretting about our process than our writing.

I’ve taken an unplanned hiatus from Gentle since September; I’m but 15 000 words from the end, but my teaching load has gobbled up the weeks.  No excuse, I understand, but it’s my present reality.  And the longer I stay away from my novel, the harder it is to go back.  My characters, whom just a few months ago I knew better than my best friend, are starting to feel like distant in-laws, and the plot … wait, there are sub-plots, too?  Sometimes long breaks are inevitable.  We’ve all heard about great writers who spent years between novels being depressed, politically active, consumed by new religions.  I used to panic if I couldn’t write for a week, so you can imagine how I must be feeling about my current predicament—I’ve broken the generous “rules” of my process.  But a day hasn’t passed when I haven’t thought about Gentle, and I’m sure that after I spend an hour breezing through my manuscript, I’ll reconnect with my characters and the story, and the rest will happen swiftly.  A throwback to the days of binge-writing (minus cigarettes and chocolate bars).

So what am I suggesting, then?  To follow a schedule or to blow the wind?  A bit of both!  A writer needs to pay as much heed to the demands of her life as to those of her process; sometimes the two are incompatible, sometimes they are harmonious.  Most times, negotiations are necessary.  As for what I tell my Introduction to Creative Writing Students, it’s vague yet specific and seems to satisfy them more than a bullet list of instructions: Do whatever gets you to write.  It might be different every time, and that’s okay; eventually you’ll discover patterns.  As long as you write something every day—a post-it note, a grocery list, an email—you’ll eventually find your way to (or back to) your story.  Or, it will find its way to you.    

April L. Ford teaches creative writing at State University of New York at Oneonta.  She received her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte, where she worked closely with Jonathan Dee, Fred G. Leebron, Naeem Murr, and Pinckney Benedict.  Her writing has appeared in Short Story magazine, r.kv.r.y. quarterly literary journal, and The Battered Suitcase, among others, and she has an article forthcoming with Ploughshares magazine.  She recently completed a short story collection called The Poor Children and is ready to query publishers.  Her first novel, Gentle, will be up next.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dealing with Rejections - Guest Post from Brigitte Goetze

Dealing with Rejections
Brigitte Goetze

Most of my poems are at first rejected before they are accepted. Some never make it out into the world for I made a (personal and quite arbitrary) rule to stop submitting a poem after it has been dismissed 15 times (or I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t good enough.) Here is my five step program on how to creatively respond to this part of the writer’s life.

1st Step: Acknowledge Feelings
Rejections hurt. At first. It is possible to take them in stride (eventually). In the meantime, disappointment, sadness, despondency, anger, or defiance are all grist for the mill.

2nd Step: Explore Believes
Voice teacher Claude Stein claims that feelings come from thoughts—at least in the case of stage fright. Here is a small sample of believes which are challenged or denied by the rejection:
a) It’s me. I’m no good.
b) I thought that my piece was good enough for publication.
c) I loved my piece and believed that others would love it, too.
d) I thought this journal was just the right venue for it.
e) I put so much work in it and that should be rewarded with publication.
f) I am a new poet (or I don’t have an MFA) that’s why my poem got rejected.
g) It is rude to not even get a rejection notice.

3rd Step: Reality Check
Widen the rejection experience by adding facts about the publication process to each belief.
a) Judgment about  a person’s character requires familiarity—which is non-existent in most submission scenarios.
b) Rejection isn’t necessarily an indicator of lacking quality. Journals often indicate in their Guide to Authors that they might get a thousand or more submissions, but publish only less than a hundred. Hence, even if every piece submitted were stellar, 900 would have to be rejected.
c) There are different styles/schools of poetry. Moreover, a book/poem lauded by one critic gets bashed by another.
d) Editors often try to create a cohesive whole from the submissions received. Pieces which don’t fit the overall design for a particular issue don’t make it.
e) Hard work means a lot has been learned in the process. Moreover, a writer’s life isn’t like elementary school where one gets credit for trying.
f) Education, an existing publication record, or even fame are no guarantee for acceptance. Sylvia Plath, May Sarton, Jane Kenyon, to name but a few, had poems rejected.
g) Many literal journals are labors of love run by volunteers. They may have only a small number (if at all) of paid staff. This means that there is neither time nor money to send out a thousand or so rejection notices.

4th Step: Constructive Response
Respond to each rejection by establishing a set of personal rules. For example:
 Take control of waiting periods. Check the Guide to Authors for average response time. If this information is not given, make a rule to resubmit the poem after, for example, six months of silence.
 Counter each rejection by sending out another set of poems to another journal the next day.
 Be selective in your choice of contests/journals which require a reading fee. Submit only those journals which offer one or two issues in return (to learn more about the journal’s preferences) or which you would like to support for other reasons.
 Network. Exchange publication histories with other poets. This gives insights into response times, editor preferences, markets, etc.

5th Step: Benefit from Rejection
Use rejection as an opportunity for re-evaluation.
 Some journals offer feedback. Take it. An attentive, experienced reader is a special gift.
 Revise. Time (and what has been read and written meanwhile) improves perception and sparks imagination.
 If the poem has been polished to a high shine and still did not make it, change your perception/experience of its rejection by adopting the concept that either time and/or place weren’t right for its publication.
 Redefine success by following Erica Jong’s advise and write only for joy.
 Write something new.

Brigitte Goetze, biologist, goat farmer, writer, lives near Oregon's Coast Range. Her essays, fiction, and poems were published by Oregon Humanities Magazine, Quiet Mountain Essays, Thresholds, Calyx, Women Artist's Datebook 2011, the anthology Love Notes and others. Her most recent poems can be found in Four and Twenty, Outwardlink, and Mused. A website is forthcoming for Fall 2012.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Author Insides - Karen Metcalf

There’s a phrase in the South, "telling stories," which means telling lies. Growing up, Karen Metcalf told a lot of stories, which wasn’t always a good thing. She was raised on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where she spent most of her time reading science fiction and horror. She continues to explore those worlds through her writing today. Karen is 24 years old and lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Karen’s well-received young adult novella, IN THE STORM, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Powell’s Books

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I think I first realized that I was on to something in about the third grade when my teacher asked my mom if I had plagiarized one of my stories. My sisters have spent a lot of time laughing about some of those originals. I continued to write throughout high school, though I focused on poetry. I don’t think I was serious about it until college; and wrote only when I ran out books.

Why do you write?
I began because it was cathartic and had major middle child syndrome. I was never interested in keeping a journal, but found that a great deal of my deeper/secret thoughts came out in my fiction when I could slip them in and let the character take credit. This still has a lot to do with my inspirations today.

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
I never really let myself think about it until I attempted to publish my novella. I didn’t know that it would become a part-time job and constantly consume my thoughts and free time. I am truly amazed that people are publishing these amazing books while working full-time and raising a family. I had no idea how time consuming the process could be, or how taxing it.

What do you think makes a good story?
I don’t like to be bogged down with a lot of trivial details. I hate reading two pages about the characters’ clothes. For me, the point of a book is to visualize it your own way, so that each reader has their personal experience and reaction. In this way less is more. Although I want closure, I like a little to be left to my imagination. I think that’s what makes a great story stay with you.

What's your favorite genre to read?
I am drawn to sci-fi/horror. Unlike a horror movie, you can’t look away during the scary parts, and I am often surprised by the things my mind can conjure up with the briefest of details.

Who is your favorite author or poet?
I will always favor Stephen King. I was introduced to him at such a young age, and he really defined my impression of what a book should be. He can scare me in a way that no one else ever has, and at the same time make me fall in love with his characters.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
I’ve noticed that the stories that have stuck with me the longest have had the simplest plots. My first love was The Hatchet, Gary Paulsen. It was just a kid stuck in the woods with a hatchet. Also The Long Walk, by Richard Bauchman (Stephen King). A teen is just walking down a road for the entire book. Both would be considered Young Adult by today’s standards. These books did not need a great deal of pomp and yet truly affected me. I think they stay in the back of my mind when I write.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person? Years ago I picked up a copy of Richard Matheson’s I am Legend. It is still one of my absolute favorites. After the novella was a few short stories, one of which a young girl was essentially kidnapped and had a horrible experience. I am so amazed that such few pages would still haunt me today.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
I like to take a step back and look at the irony around me. I think a lot about descriptions and like to find metaphors for everyday things. My family is a huge inspiration.

What does your family think of your writing?
They have been subjected to it for most of my life and have always been my beta readers. They were just as shocked as I was when I become really serious about writing and have been extremely supportive throughout my experience. I’m sure they wished it paid better.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
Like an idiot, I started to do most of my writing around the same time I began my Masters. It really cuts into my writing time and drains me. I fit it in on weekends and whatever free time I find between work and family. There really is no schedule.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
I have found that my reclining sofa was my sanctuary, but had to get rid of it when I moved. I haven’t found a comfortable place to write since. I must have coffee and cigarettes.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I have to pace myself and tend to be brief when I could expand more. I would like to create longer pieces.

What are your current projects?
I have begun to play around with a sequel to my novella In the Storm.

What are you planning for future projects?
I have a sci-fi-ish plot that has been floating around for a while now and would like to add to what I have down on paper. For now everything is jotted down in a notebook.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Be aware that if you start it will consume your life. Once you get a taste of what you can create, it is very difficult to imagine doing anything else. You have to write for you, and forget that anyone else will ever read it or you will edit it to death.

Where can we find your work?
My novella In the Storm was published via Vagabondage Press, LLC and is available on their website and through other vendors in both e-book and print.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dirty Words - Guest Post from Erin Ward

Dirty Words 
Erin Ward

It’s really about character, not sex. That’s the first thing I explain to people when I confide that I write erotica. In my opinion, that’s the difference between art and porn. Am I communicating an act or am I communicating the development of my characters? For me, it’s always about people. Characters drive the plot. The act is secondary really—it’s the follow up. Humanity is at the root any good story, even a story steeped in sex.

I find it nearly impossible to incorporate anything romantic or sexual in nature until I know my leading lady. I almost always write from the point of view of a woman, because that’s what I am and what I know. My writing is so cerebral and so emotional; I’m not sure my style would convey a convincing masculine voice. When I begin a story, I start by building my heroine. I usually begin building around something that ends up being very central to the plot—quite often her most private insecurity. Though sometimes that insecurity is very public, while her feelings on it are not. Such was the case with Tinseltown—Veronica’s albinism is hardly a secret, yet her heart is full of them. She owns her appearance in every way possible, because not to do so would mean succumbing to a despair that would devour her, even going as far as choosing a home that would embrace her—Los Angeles. In the end, her sexual quest is not a series of fetishized scenarios; it’s about watching her blossom as she learns to trust… being present as she embodies the sensual beauty of her otherness.

When I was writing for workshops, women tended to love my work. Men would often comment that nothing happens. Perhaps this is because women understand the chaos of the female mind, the cavern we carry of tumultuous emotion, the pandemonium of our inner selves…even in our head and heart we know it’s all happening! A story is empty without a strong sense of humanity, and I do my best to make sure my women are human. I show their peculiarities. I make them vulnerable. I allow them to be strong. I spill all their secrets. I try to do so in a way that every female reading can identify with the arduous task of hiding—sometimes it’s quiet and subtle, sometimes it’s a fucking mountain. We come from a culture, a history where women mask and make-up, learn to manipulate subtly and embody a certain mystery, so it’s always fascinating to see beneath those many layers.

That isn’t to say that men can’t enjoy my writing, or won’t. It is of my opinion that many men would relish the opportunity to explore the eccentricities of femininity and learn how that can permeate the written word. There is always a struggle, it is ripe with tension, and that speaks to everyone. When my protagonist is known, fleshed out whole-heartedly in my mind, then the story is boundless. When she becomes real, then I can go about writing my men in a way that feels authentic for me. It took me years to discover that women find men sexy in a variety of ways, sometimes in ways that we ourselves find surprising. Attraction is in the details and the contradictions bubbling up, always under the radar. That being said, when it finally comes to sex, there are no holds barred. Why should there be? My characters have earned it. At this point, it becomes their story. They write it. They live it for me to put down.

Tinseltown is a story of self-discovery; it’s a peek into the idiosyncrasies of the female mind. And through understanding Veronica, you’re better able to understand a place—and that’s Tinseltown. I am Erin Ward and you can find my book at the following locations:

Feel free to check out my page:


Saturday, April 6, 2013

NeuroVont: A Study in Desperation - Guest Post from Gil A. Waters

NeuroVont: A Study in Desperation
Gil A. Waters

There was a time in my life when creativity was its own reward. As a child, I filled notebook after notebook with poorly written prose simply because writing was enjoyable to an introspective and socially dysfunctional boy like me. I harbored fantasies of being a famous SciFi writer, but these fantasies were fun. They weren’t like adult fantasies in which you dread the thought of not living up to your dreams and having to settle for a second-rate life.

Unfortunately, the first couple decades of my adult life were spent abusing drugs and studying the social sciences, so I didn’t have time for “creative” writing. It was strictly academic non-fiction. Even when I finished grad school, I didn’t return to writing beyond what was required of whatever job I was performing at the time. Again, it was only non-fiction at its most dull and dry.

Then, something happened. I entered my 40s. My body promptly began to decay and I saw myself hurtling toward the half-century mark never having tried to become what I had long wanted to be: a writer. I was terrified. Scared existentially shitless. I would lay in post-op after thyroid surgery or spinal surgery and wonder what my creative legacy would be were I to die on the table during my next operation.

So I picked up notebook and pen and began sketching out a story that would eventually become “NeuroVont, Incorporated.” It is a SciFi Action tale replete with sex, drugs, violence, and disease. It is purposely written, for the most part, in the sparse and spare style of a screenplay. I wrote and re-wrote the story several times, then I emailed it to the publishers of a few on-line magazines. The only one to accept it was Vagabondage Press, which published it in the March 2009 issue of the Battered Suitcase.

But I wasn’t satisfied. My short story failed to bring me either wealth or fame, and I was getting even closer to 50. There seemed to be only one logical course of action: turn NeuroVont into a book and get it published. It took four years and an enormous quantity of marijuana to write NeuroVont-the-novel. I wrote at the office and at home and on the subway. I thought about the book every waking second, working through dialogue and plot points in my head. When I was finally done (or so I thought), I sent the manuscript to many publishers, all of whom rejected it.

Just as I was about to lose all hope, just as I was thinking about sinking to the level of self-publishing, I stumbled upon Montag Press, the editorial staff of which inexplicably liked my book and agreed to publish it. But first came an editorial process as painful as dental surgery. I was informed from the outset that at least a third of the book “didn’t work” and would have to be jettisoned and replaced. Many were the occasions I would receive an email from my editor along the lines of “great work on the revisions, but I think you should cut chapter six.” At which point I would struggle not to vomit and hyperventilate at the same time, before dutifully cutting chapter six and trying to fill the hole that left in the book. Because I had to get published. I had to be a real writer before I got any older.

And, so, NeuroVont, Incorporated was published in May of 2012, as both a paperback and an e-book. Now I confront a different kind of literary dilemma: microscopic sales. I’ve published a book, and next to no one is buying the fucking thing. But I’m doing my best to increase sales. I have to. In only a few short years I’ll be 50, and then it will be too late.

If you’d like to download the Kindle version of NeuroVont for free via MediaFire, or buy the paperback from Amazon, visit my website at

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Author Insides - Daniel DiStasio

Daniel DiStasio's fiction has appeared in The MacGuffin, Gertrude Press, The Louisville Review, The Minnetonka Review, and Reed and other literary journals. He is full-time instructor of English and Literature and a former editor for General Media. He has worked a s freelance writer for numerous magazines and newspapers. He was born in Syracuse, NY, lived in Kentucky, Key West and now currently resides in Fort Lauderdale.

His novel, the highly lauded FACING THE FURIES, is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s Books.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
At the age of six, I created a world of make believe characters—imaginary friends and teddy bears. After they built homes and a town in my attic, they needed a newspaper to keep up with current events. I realized then I was writer.

Why do you write?
It’s an addiction. I have to get the stories out of my head.

What was the inspiration for Facing the Furies?
When Hurricane Wilma introduced the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico in my living room, I knew there had to be a reason. After my first short story cycle "On the Rock" based in Key West was well-receive by my mentor K.L. Cook, he insisted I write a novel based on the Keys as well.

What sort of research did you do for the project?
I became a weather addict. My favorite web site is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I also love Wunderground and several blogs by noted meteorologists.

Do you see yourself in your work?
Furies deals with loneliness and fear. I can relate.

What do you think makes a good story?
Truth. Imagination. Fear.

What's your favorite genre to read?
Literary Fiction

Who is your favorite author or poet?
I grew up in a Russian- Italian home. My mother read constantly. I fell in love with the Russians: Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Tolstoy, Lemontov and Chekhov. Lately, I am re-reading and loving turn of the century American writers: Jack London, Joseph Conrad and the next generation starting with John Steinbeck.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
Grapes of Wrath, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Wind up Bird Chronicles

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
Actually, the stories/songs written by Lou Reed.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
I wake up. New experiences are important. Pushing myself to places that make me uncomfortable keeps me alive.

What does your family think of your writing?
They are very supportive.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I have a history of working then quitting jobs to concentrate on my writing. When I run out of money, I go back to work. Finally, I began teaching which I like and gives me time to write so I will probably stick with it. I write in the morning, usually at 5 am or earlier.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
Write every day—even if it is only on sentence. I carry a story in my head with me all the time—I may struggle with a sentence--- and repeat the first few words over and over as I walk my dogs, take a run, drive to work, go to the gym and sometimes by the end of the day, the sentence is finished.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

What are your current projects?
I have nearly completed the first draft of my next novel, working title "Calm Waters" about a drug deal gone sour. If it were a Beatles’ song it would be "Money Can’t Buy You Love."

What are you planning for future projects?
A short story cycle about the animal nature of humans called "Animalosity" and a gay romance set during the Gold Rush in Alaska.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Keep writing—every day—writers write.

Where else can we find your work?
A number of my stories are available on line at literary journal sites.