Overcoming Vanity; Just Write

April 14, 2014 by

“I want to make something of myself. I believe it’s called a statue.” –Jarod Kintz

Lately I’ve been having a problem, concerning my writing, that has affected my personal blog, a few pieces I’ve been asked to write as an “expert” on being inside of juvenile detention centers, and even in my creative writing classes. Okay, particularly my creative nonfiction class. I constantly find myself falling victim to “impostor syndrome,” a condition characterized by the inability to take credit for one’s own work, or in my case, the constant feeling that what I’m writing is self-indulgent, unimportant crap that nobody cares about.

To spare everyone the tedious lecture, I’m going to avoid a long, preachy blog post where I pontificate about self-confidence. That would be incredibly dull and the last time I checked, I’m not exactly qualified to be giving people self-esteem pep-talks. (See what I did there?) Anyway, I want to focus on the writing part because that’s the theme of this blog, and that’s what really matters.

During my first residency, all of the speakers emphasized the importance of our unique voices and unique perspectives that we can use to bring our writing to life, but I just can’t help feeling a little less than unique lately. For example, I’ll be typing up an assignment for class, when I look back over the material, I’ll see some awful cliché and think to myself, “I’m the most boringest person ever!” Then I criticize myself in my head for bad grammar, then I begin to wonder about the neuroses behind correcting my inner monologue’s grammar, then I wonder if it’s normal to be having this discussion in my head, and then I end up on Web MD for several hours researching mental illnesses. The point is, instead of just writing, I stare at the page for unprecedented amounts of time, fighting off an anxiety attack because I can’t reconcile with the fact that—yes—making an effort to write with the intention of sharing my experiences with a large audience may be slightly self-indulgent, but it does not make me a bad person or some sort of ego-maniac. It makes me a writer.

Excuse me for a moment while I act like a hypocrite and provide you with some possibly needless preaching to suggest that we all want to be validated. Everyone wants to feel that his or her experiences are unique and that they deserve to be heard. Just because people don’t alwaysFunny Cry for Help Ecard: Me? Vain? Oh I just took all those shirtless mirror pics of myself to prove my photography skills to Facebook. put it in writing, doesn’t mean they don’t constantly do the same thing when they talk to co-workers, family and friends. I mean, just look to social media sites like Facebook or Twitter if you’re worried you might sound a little vain or self-important . People express their unique perspectives every day, and they don’t sit at a computer screen frantically typing “narcissism” into Google about it.

Needless to say, even this post was a huge obstacle for me. What will people think of me, I wondered, Will they be offended by what I have to say? Will people feel I am unqualified to speak on this subject?

The truth is, fretting about whether or not people are going to believe your opinion is valid is the most egotistical thing you can do. You’re not being humble, you’re being obsessive, and according to Web MD you are expressing several symptoms of narcissism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, and…well, you get it.

Just sit down wherever it is that you write (I personally enjoy doing so at my little desk in the creative writing office—all this typing makes me sound very busy, and I don’t have a 90 pound puppy whining loudly at my feet), and write something down. I’m sure we’ve all heard this enough times during residency, but stop thinking about the writing and just write! Get something down; then worry about whether or not it’s any good, or if you might sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Chances are, if you say it confidently enough, people will be too impressed by the writing to know you’re an impostor sense your self-doubt.

butttrumpetHillary Transue is a current student in the Wilkes Creative Writing program and the editor of The Write Life blog. She spends her time engaging in futile attempts to train her 11-month pit-bull puppy and thinking up really good excuses not to write–most of which she finds at 3am on Web MD.

Christoph Paul’s Bizarro World

April 3, 2014 by

by Christoph Paul

I keep getting asked a lot what is “Bizarro”, but I never intended to be part of the genre or even knew what it was until I put out my third book “Great White House”.Great White House Final COVER

 Working with an editor who lived out in the hills of Vermont, and myself isolated in the Bronx, I started writing strange short pieces to get my writing confidence going again; they were a combo of surrealism, satire, and having fun with genres and turning them on their head.

I was looking for a renewed confidence in my writing as I started as literary novelist and finished an ambitious literary novel for my thesis at Wilkes called “Prophet”, inspired by Dostoevsky and Camus.

 After giving it my all, I ended with an ambitious and beautiful book that was still a few years away from being ready from publication. I was disappointed but instead of giving up I went a different route for inspiration and started getting back into lower art like Grindhouse 70′s films, Horror, and heavy-handed satire and followed that love of lower art and put them into fiction as these stories started to flow out of me.

 They were not post-modern or academic and no reputable literary journal would or want to publish them, but they were entertaining. I started to post them on my blog and people thought they were really funny and I got a small following and caught an editor’s eye.

Big Foot Cop The editor and I did not know what to call what I was writing and even though I enjoy being pretentious, ‘Christophian’ was not going to cut it. We didn’t know how to market what I was writing but the stories and strangeness kept coming and we just embraced it but struggled to market them.

 I started to get on a roll writing in this very playful style mix of Gindhouse, humor, satire, and decided to put all together in longer form as a novella about a shark attack on the white house, which I ended up cowriting with a Wilkes alum who goes by the author name Brody Thomas. The idea was so ridiculous, but we loved it and it made us laugh. I realized I had one golden rule: the more ridiculous the idea the tighter the writing and structure.

He was a screenwriter and our goal was to make it feel like a “South Park” movie on the page. We wanted (and still do) to be a movie, but loved the idea of a movie being in book form and just putting it out ourselves under my own imprint The Only Rx Press named after my old band.

 As I started to promote it with a marketing budget of a seventh grade science project using guerrilla marketing tactics of social media and a single poster of the book cover, it ended up exposing me to an audience where someone told me on Twitter, “Hey, I like Great White House it is a cool Bizarro novella.”

Happy to get praise I googled “Bizarro” and saw a writer come up I’ve known and liked for a while named Carlton Mellick III; I’ve been a fan of his for years but I never thought about his genre but I saw there were many others like him and realized that I was part of a genre across the other side of the country that was thriving in Portland and didn’t even know it existed.Morbidly Obese

 It’s weird (not just the genre) but I prided myself on being independent and just doing my own thing but I really loved finding and being part of a genre; I even went to BizarroCon and it was like Wilkes but everyone was way weirder but in a good way.

 What was interesting about the bizarro crowd was they speak and act very much like screenwriters: very interested in structure, story telling, 3 acts, and of course a great pitch and title. I saw book deals get made there at the Con and now seeing them published as I write this blogpost.

 I think that is what’s so appealing and what this genre is really about, it is like a bunch of lovers and film makers of the cult movie section on Netflix who found their way into literature.

 Time PimpIf you had to label Bizarro that’s what it is: a cult-like B-Movie done with a lot of craft and a fast moving entertaining structure into prose.

 It follows the same rules of good writing: great character development, settings that serve the story, and a structure that is tight and moves usually at a film-like pace.

 The only difference is it is really weird, but weird in a very great way.

 I feel very at home with the genre and it’s ok if it’s not taken seriously or will not win a Booker Prize, it’s getting young people to read books which is the best award an author can ask for these days.

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Christoph Paul is an award-wining humor/Bizarro author of five books of prose and poetry and the singer/songwriter of rock band Moses Moses. He received an MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. He has managed an adult video store and worked for the Department of Labor which he found both to be morally dubious. He is currently working on his 6th book.

Lori M. Myers’ “Mirror Mirror”

March 24, 2014 by

Lori M. Myers is a graduate of the Wilkes Creative Writing program and her play “Mirror Mirror” will be performed in Brooklyn, NY on playposterModern-DayMirrorMirror (2)March 28th and 29th.  In the following interview she shared some of her thoughts about the play and what it’s like to have a play produced. (The website for the theater company producing her play can be found by clicking on the poster to the right.)

HT: Your play “Mirror Mirror” is about to be performed in Brooklyn, NY on March 28th and 29th. Can you tell me what it’s about?

LM: It’s about the sometimes wonderful, sometimes complicated connection between mothers and daughters. “Mirror, Mirror” explores this relationship, but instead of the young daughter being the rebellious one, it is the mother dealing with issues of drug and alcohol abuse. As much as the daughter yearns to separate herself from the mother’s situation, she finds that she cannot.   

HT: Do you have any inspiration behind the writing-any particular reason you chose to write this piece?

LM: The phrase “I have my mother’s hands” is one that many women seem to acknowledge once they reach their 30′s, 40′s, and beyond. I’ve heard and read this a lot. Sometimes it’s said with pride, and other times with dread. That was the springboard for the play.

HT: How did this piece get picked up by a theater company? How did you go about that process?

LM:“Mirror, Mirror” is a short play  that was produced last June by Gaslight Theatre Company in Wilkes-Barre. After it completed its run there, I sent it out to a theater or two based on announcements appearing on websites and Facebook pages for theaters requesting plays. Honestly, sometimes it’s a crapshoot as to whether a play gets accepted or rejected because it may depend on a theater’s mission or theme. I was thrilled when I received word that “Mirror, Mirror” made the cut at Modern-Day Griot Theatre Company. I’m looking forward to seeing their interpretation.  

HT: What is it like seeing your piece performed by others? Do you feel pride, elation, etc.?

LM: I certainly feel pride that my words and story are on stage and elation that an audience is experiencing a piece I’ve written. I also write musicals for young audiences which are produced at a professional theater about an hour from me, and I’m always delighted by children’s reactions. But what I mostly feel is fear because I have absolutely no control over the final product. I’ve worked as a professional actor and director and in each of those areas there is some degree of control; as an actor you control how you are portraying a character and, as a director, you are controlling the look and feel of the production. A playwright hands over their pages and hopes for the best.  But that’s as it should be.

HT: Do you take any part in the process? Does anyone consult you on how the piece is performed?

LM: I truly believe that playwrights need to trust the director and actors; they want the best for your piece because they want to look good, too. When I write a play, I purposely don’t include a lot of action as I want the director to place his/her own stamp on the piece. The New York director from Modern-Day Griot Theatre wrote me and said that she and the actors were having fun exploring these characters. As a writer, THAT made me feel wonderful. 

HT: After the show, how quickly will you move on to another project? Do you take breaks between writing or wait for inspiration?

LM: I always have some sort of writing project going on as I am also a freelance writer who writes for magazines. Deadlines are amazing motivators! If I don’t have ideas on paper or on the computer screen then it’s swimming around in my head.  

HT: What advice do you have to give to other aspiring playwrights?

LM: I always give the same advice to all writers: persist. Don’t give up. Rejection is part of the process. Keep sending your work out, keep reading, and keep writing.

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Lori M. Myers is an award-winning writer and Pushcart Prize nominee of creative nonfiction, fiction, essays, and plays. Her work has been seen in more than 50 national and regional magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. Her plays have been produced on seven regional stages, two have been published, and one was a Broadway World Award nominee. Lori has a masters in creative writing from Wilkes University, is interviews editor for Hippocampus Magazine, and teaches writing at York College of Pennsylvania.

CONTACT:

Lori M. Myers, writer/author/playwright
3608 Green St.
Harrisburg, PA 17110
ph: 717-580-2152
email: lmyers316@comcast.net
web: http://www.lorimmyers.com

Figuring Out How To *Do* AWP

March 13, 2014 by

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VIDA put out its now-annual The Count a strategic two days before the start of AWP when a butt load of writers, and teachers, academics, students, editors, agents, publishers were in conference prep mode and travel toward Seattle, WA. The Count is a collection of data about the proportion of female writers represented in individual literary publications, reviews, etc. from the entire previous year. Find it here.

Clever timing, VIDA; I salute you as always.

The results are better this year than last year, but still inappropriately non-balanced, and this annual study is one of the artifacts that convinces me it’s worthwhile to be a feminist.

When I was a young warthog

I took the train to Baltimore for AWP in 2003 as a 22-year-old Undergraduate Literary Journal Editor. Like most 22-year-olds, I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

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I was still saying dumb shit like, “I don’t call myself a feminist because… [fill in the blank with nonsense].” I had green hair.

I lost my cell phone, new to me, in the lobby of the conference hotel. The space was so big it felt like I was being actually swallowed by it and the swarm of writers and neurotics. I had a sense of nebulous non-selfness and of belonging at once.

The experience was insane and overwhelming. I read (an awful story full of heavy-handed symbolism, badly) at an open mic reading. I went to some panels full of writers I was reading at the time. I heard Darcy Steinke and Dave Davies speak.

I spent some time at the book fair, but it was with the no-future spirit of a person who can lose herself in a crowd, of a person who only knows one sure thing about herself: she is a writer. I ran around giving out copies of our journal, trading with other undergrad lit mags.

As a wise old grasshopper

For AWP 2013, I drove to Massachusetts, stayed with friends in Gloucester, and commuted to Boston. I volunteered at the Wilkes/Etruscan booth.

I was ready to be overwhelmed and worn out in the same way as I’d been ten years before, but it was different. Because there was only one train to Gloucester and it only ran till five, I only did AWP during the day. I went to a wonderful panel about what I was working on: nonfiction essay collections + how to order them. I herd Cheryl Strayed talk. I learned the word twee.

I bought a Rumpus mug that would remind me in the coming months to “write like a motherfucker.”20140227_112750

The difference between conference experiences was clear: I could go take it in without letting it take me over. I was older and better at life. I took myself and my work seriously (not to say that people with green hair don’t take themselves seriously, just that I didn’t: I still believed excellence was not my birthright; sensed I was only worth my ovaries).

The book fair was useful. I was neck deep in drafting at the time. I subscribed to Creative Nonfiction. I was thinking future, sort of. As well as I could. I knew more things about myself and the world: I knew I was a feminist and a writer. I knew I no longer needed green hair to be distinct. I knew that having girl parts didn’t disqualify me from entering and thriving in this world, even if it would be harder than if I had boy parts.

Third time’s the charm

In 2014, I got myself to Washington with laser focus and agenda. 1) have a fucking vacation  and 2) learn about presses and journals that might dig my work.

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I skipped Thursday and my partner and I did Seattle (space needle, museums, etc), I showed up early on Friday, picked up my registration materials, and slowly, deliberately visited every booth in half of the book fair. I discovered PM Press, Third Place Books, and talked with (and bought books from) their people.

I introduced myself to the representatives from Bitch Magazine, in case you don’t know, the subtitle is, “feminist response to pop culture.” I picked up their food issue and subscribed.

I talked to Foreword Reviews, about becoming a reviewer. I grabbed guidelines for The Review Review whose newsletter is INSANELY valuable.

I looked for books like my MS: books by women about woman stuff that may have a broader appeal. I talked to people. I seized every opportunity to write something on a post-it for a chance to win, for another chance that someone might recognize my name when it lands in their submission manager.

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Saturday, I met Jennifer Basye Sander, a former Big Six/five editor, book writer and packager, and feminist who said, “Henry Miller’s a fucking misogynist.” She apologized, but I don’t. It’s true. I couldn’t read past one chapter of Tropic of Cancer or forgive his insane depictions of vaginae.

Jennifer throws writing retreats in Washington and Northern Cali just for women writers. I’m going to try to get to one.

Then we spent a couple more days doing Seattle, ate so much good food, walked dozens of miles uphill. It wasn’t part of my plan, but the cool-down days gave me time to process and plan for next year.

And that’s just the highlights. I spent less time and got more out of AWP 14 than ever before. Next year, I’m going to spend two days going to panels and readings and presentations, and one day strategically hitting the book fair (like with the map and a highlighter).

Thanks, Wilkes, for the opportunity to get there.

April Line

April Line

BIO: April Line is working toward her MFA at Wilkes University. Her work has appeared in Sou’Wester and in several north-central PA regional news and lifestyle publications. She blogs at www.AprilLineWriting.com, hasn’t read a book by a man in more than a year, and lives in Williamsport with her partner and daughter.

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Robert May: Documentaries and Advice for Aspiring Artists

March 4, 2014 by

My previous blog entry discussed producer Robert May’s creative process and the mechanics of moving a fictional film through production. This week, I conclude the two-part series by discussing his process for documentary films and his advice for aspiring story-tellers and film-makers.

According to May, there are two prominent categories of documentary films: ones with an active story, and ones in which the story has already happened (inactive story).

While the story components of an inactive story are already present, there must be an especially compelling reason to revisit the events. Otherwise, retelling a pre-existing story may not be worth the investment. “There is more research required,” May explained, “because you may need to find a new angle.”

For either form of documentary, “seed money” is needed to begin a project. People need to be hired to gather the initial footage, and then if the project is worth moving forward, the rest of the money is raised. If the project is deemed unworthy of production, it is abandoned entirely.

An active story, however, is an entirely different type of project. It is already compelling by nature, since it’s still unfolding as it is being told which gives the story momentum, but May cautions that, “an active story can’t be too tragic; it has to have a dynamic for people to be interested in seeing it.”

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May used his most recent film, Kids for Cash, as an example of what he means by “dynamic.” He does not believe that any story should be presented from a single side, because much like the reality he is trying to capture, people on both sides of a story present sometimes opposing perspectives. He insists, much to my unbiased approval, that he would not have begun production on the film without having the former judges appear in it as well.

In order to gather footage from both angles and to have both “villain” and “victim” appear in the same film May makes it clear that the producer must maintain absolute secrecy until the film is finalized. Because obtaining an interview from a subject requires building a rapport and earning that person’s trust, the discovery of an interaction between the film-maker and the subject’s offender can cause emotional repercussions (I assume), or even negatively affect the promotion of a film.  Furthermore, if the subjects suspect that an undesirable contact is being interviewed, their responses will be less genuine and the project will lose its integrity.

A hazard of attempting to film active stories is that they can be extremely unpredictable because they develop as the project is being filmed. “You know it’s going to be a wild ride; you have no idea where the story is going. You just need to keep assessing and reassessing the footage,” May said.

As an example, during former Judge Ciavarella’s trial, an outraged mother burst onto the scene to confront Ciavarella on the courthouse steps. She began raging at him—who she blamed for the tragic suicide of her only child—and her raw, emotional outburst intrigued May greatly. He knew then, roughly two years into filming, that he had to include this woman in the movie.

 Because of the wide variety of people filmed, some characters must be cut entirely for the sake of time constraints. May filmed many people who were involved in the Kids for Cash scandal who did not make it past the editing room. His explanation was that, while initially the story may not be clear, once it begins developing and gaining prevalence, filmmakers must decide which “characters” contribute directly to the overall theme or point.

There is also a certain sensitivity involved regarding what the subjects choose to divulge. According to May, unlike reality shows, the subjects’ interviews cannot be altered to take statements out of context. It is a careful science conveying the subjects’ meaning precisely as intended.

After filming is complete, the editing process can take longer than a fictional narrative because of the “sheer mountain of material.” At one point he had three editors, five assistants, and an assistant editor working on the project at a single time.

Once the film has been released and is in its final stages, May initially feels “exhilaration,” but he quickly explained, “…if there’s a lot of money owed, I worry to death. ‘Can we pay people back?’ ‘What will people think [of the film]?’ ‘What will critics say?’” May spends the few months after a release fretting about the film’s success.

Another big source of anxiety for May is sharing the film with its subjects. “When you put the ‘villain’ and ‘victims’ in the same film, you have to be worried about the victim’s response. The product can take a very human toll, but hopefully the movie will advance the healing of the people involved.”

While May recognizes the necessity of promoting his movies, he does stress the importance of moving on to begin development of another project. He indicates that some of his colleagues have recommended taking a break between projects, but in an admirable admission of dedication to his art, May claims that, “You need to be doing it[film-making]…you need to keep moving forward.”

In regard to other potential projects, May clarified that Kids for Cash is his first directorial credit, a role in which he is beginning to gain confidence. He is now considering taking up the mantle of director again for future projects. Either way, May does not plan to linger long in the ether of “between projects.”

Finally, May provided some useful advice for aspiring writers, story-tellers, and prospective film-makers alike:

“A film is the most collaborative art form there is; you have to be a good collaborator.” All of the people involved in the production of the film are necessary to create a successful product. You have to be open to criticism, willing to work with others, and unafraid to change anything that isn’t being perceived the way you want it to.

With that in mind, he goes on to say, “Writers need to be very open to ‘trying to figure it out.’ When we give notes and people contend every note—Don’t! Try to figure out why people are saying what it is that they are saying. Embrace the collaborative process and embrace the notes that people are giving you. Decide whether you want them to feel that way, and if you don’t, figure out how to change it.”

Robert May: A Producer’s Process

February 19, 2014 by
Robert May

Robert May

Robert May is the founder of SenArt films, and the producer of several notable films:  BonnevilleThe War TapesThe Fog of WarThe Station AgentStevie, and the producer/director of his most recent documentary Kids For Cash. He has been an advisory board member for the Wilkes Creative Writing program since 2006, and the Wilkes Creative Writing department worked extensively with him on the production of Kids for Cash.

I interviewed him about his creative process, after several days of metaphorically tapping his shoulder and finally managing to acquire some of his time. I began our interview by asking about which kinds of stories particularly spark his interest. May enthusiastically replied that he is a man who is enthralled by characters and intense character development.

“I like to read nonfiction primarily, but something that is character driven fascinates me immensely because of my intrigue with real people and characters. The challenges they face and the ways in which they get themselves out of those situations interests me a great deal.”

May also insisted that he enjoys the unexpected in characters, “I like characters who initially appear as simple but who reveal themselves to be complex.”

Next I was curious about the elements of a story that are indicative of success for May. What inspires him to move forward with a project?

“Every film script, documentary, etc. has to have a hook for the audience,” says May. “If there is no compelling reason for an audience to be interested in a story then it doesn’t get made.”

This much would seem obvious to most people, if the script is not worth reading then it is certainly not worth investing in as a project. However, May continued to clarify:

“If it’s a script—narrative film—when I read the script I want to be really attached to somebody within the first ten pages.” May says that it is crucial that he is drawn to what happens next.

He also made it clear that, “this is not a hobby,” and that when he does move forward with scripts they do need to be “commercially viable.” He had once abandoned a script he really believed in because a similar movie was being produced, and he was concerned that it would create commercial competition.

Once May has decided to move forward with a project, a long sequence of events must take place in order to produce the final product:

For a fictional narrative, a script must first be sent to a reader who will write a synopsis that determines whether or not the script is fit for production. From that point, if the script is viable, it will go either to May or his production partner, Lauren Timmons (or both), to read.

For May, a script needs not only to be compelling, but also must have a meaning or a point. He’s not into goofy comedies made for pure entertainment value; he wants the audience to learn something.

If May likes the script, the writer will be contacted, and the script will be sent to a line producer, who assesses the cost of production down to the very day—taking into consideration variables such as time, location, etc.

After May evaluates the budget and decides if the film is financially feasible, the “script breakdown” will begin. During this process, speaking parts will be numbered, locations taken into account, and then actors will be considered for roles; May will have to weigh the importance of having a “big name” actor as opposed to one with less commercial success. (An actor with more fame may detract significantly from the budget in cost, but could also potentially bring in more money for the film.)

May will call up an agency, pitch the project to an actor’s agent, and if the offer is accepted, he will then have to negotiate cost. For some actors, they won’t even agree to be a part of the project until it is “green-lit” or fully funded. The risk that the project may not acquire enough money to finish is too high for an actor to compromise his or her schedule.

That being said, raising money for a film is a project in and of itself. “Sometimes,” May states, “if you are friends with an actor you can use those connections to raise money.” Otherwise, one must obtain a private equity loan, convince a studio to finance part of the film, or pre-sell international rights in advance, which May explains as a promise to finish the film in exchange for x amount of dollars.

Once the money is raised, pre-production can begin on the film. A team of roughly 25 essential people are hired and every single aspect of production is converted into a timed schedule. The schedules of every actor on the film are manipulated to make sure that they can be present for filming. Location scouts are sent out and the budget for the film is continually updated and reviewed during the entire process.

Once filming starts, at the end of each day footage is reviewed and, ideally, the editor is beginning to participate in the process as well. Editing, May says, can take up to about 14 weeks, during which time the editors manipulate the footage into a coherent, cohesive piece. The producer typically cannot even look at the film until ten weeks into the editing process, and then he or she works to help refine the material.

However, May was very careful to distinguish the process of producing a fictional film from the process of documentary film-making. He emphasized the dramatic difference between the two, to the extent that I feel it is necessary to divide the discussion into two parts. Cliff-hanger!

Next week: Documentary Film-Making and Advice for Aspiring Story-Tellers with Robert May

Hillary Transue: Grad Assistant

February 4, 2014 by

As the newly instated Graduate Assistant for the Creative Writing department here at Wilkes University, the task of maintaining The Write Life blog has been delegated to me.

That being said, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself to my fellow Wilkes University students, faculty, alum, current members of the Creative Writing M.F.A. program, and The Write Life readership:

I am a local resident of the Wilkes-Barre/Northeast-PA area, I am 22-years-old, and I have just recently graduated from Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature Studies.

Also, because of the huge contributions that Wilkes University (more specifically our beloved Creative Writing department) has made to the upcoming documentary produced by SenArt films, which premieres this week, I feel it would be impertinent not to mention my personal involvement in the film.

When I was fifteen-years-old I was unjustly imprisoned and sent to a girls camp for juvenile delinquents in Jim Thorpe, PA. My case was responsible for alerting the Juvenile Law Center, a child advocacy group located in Philadelphia, PA, to the questionable actions of former Judge Ciavarella and his heinous mistreatment of juveniles who appeared in his court room. Because of the Juvenile Law Center’s involvement and their resulting investigation into the former judge’s court proceedings one of the biggest juvenile justice scandals in our nation’s history was unveiled.

I am featured in the upcoming film Kids for Cash by SenArt Films (alongside several other juveniles affected by former Judge Ciavarella). And while it may seem as though my decision to enroll in the Creative Writing M.F.A. here at Wilkes was a calculated career move, I assure you that it was more of a cosmic coincidence, divine intervention, or some sort of profound indication of the synergistic qualities of the universe.

I have been a voracious reader from a very young age and have experimented with writing for an equally long amount of time. However, as many of us writers must feel at some point during our lives, I have never had the self-confidence in my own writing to pursue creative writing beyond writing mediocre, mopey poetry in my diary (“…it’s a journal, mom!”), and a personal blog for the entertainment of friends and family.

In fact, it was my intention to apply to Wilkes in order to enroll in graduate education classes. However, Wilkes does not currently offer graduate Education courses for students who do not already have their teaching certification. As I continued to investigate some of the programs Wilkes does offer for graduate students, I happened upon the creative writing program and something inside me—perhaps my inner authoress—demanded that I apply.

Having just trudged through the 501 residency, or “boot camp for writers” as many of the students so affectionately refer to it, I am much more optimistic about my potential to grow as a writer and I am beginning to put the title on, one sleeve at a time.

From here on I hope to fade into the background and let my writing speak for itself, but I just wanted to make note of the transition currently taking place as I become the new Editor for The Write Life blog. I look forward to generating new ideas for blog posts and interviewing the talented writers made available through the creative writing program. I can only hope to be as successful an editor as the lovely Lori A. May, whose previous contributions as editor proved to be invaluable resources for fellow aspiring writers and members of the Wilkes community.

The Girl Who Loved Books and Emdashes

January 29, 2014 by
The Girl Who Loved Books and Emdashes
Thoughts on the Wilkes Publishing Internship
By Kim Loomis-Bennett
 

I am a reader and being a reader made me a writer. I have loved books forever and they have loved me back. Grammar and punctuation did not love me and I pretended we would never meet again—until a few years ago when I entered the Wilkes M.A./M.F.A. program and began teaching part-time in Washington State.

One of my first gigs was a grammar review class. Learning theories acknowledge that students learn more when they teach a new skill to a classmate. When I had twenty-five students counting on me and I was hired to be the “expert,” I knew that I would never have a better occasion to learn the twenty different ways to use a comma or how sometimes subordination adds a touch of elegance to stale syntax.

As the time to intern with Etruscan Press approached, I was direct and told Phil Brady and Managing Editor Jackie Fowler that I wanted to experience the duties of a proofreader and editor. With a green light, Jackie sent me home with books to read and consider reviewing. A few weeks after residency, my first proofreading task arrived in my Gmail inbox.

editCertainly, proofreading led me down roads I had never planned to go, but I loved each fresh challenge. My main technical question concerned the endash (–) so named because it is the length of the letter n and it is often used between numbers: such as, 3:00–6:00, and the emdash (—) which is defined by the length of an m, and can be used in place of a colon, and commas or parentheses that are placed around nonessential information—or to indicate a long pause. Dashes are entirely optional. When I went through James McCorkle’s poetry manuscript, The Subtle Bodies, I was in love with the language, but had to shut down the content reading part of my brain and look at the mechanics. What I found were endashes and emdashes employed inconsistently. This happens when files are transferred from laptops to desktop pcs. Mr. McCorkle loves his dashes, as do I, so my job as a proofreader for a dash-user just happened to be a good fit. And just a few weeks ago, McCorkle’s uncorrected proof appeared in my mailbox. I saw how what is often unacknowledged work bear fruit in McCorkle’s close-to-publication manuscript; I appreciated that background work is a good fit for me. During the internship, I took an additional brief editorial course and found that I want to go even farther and seek a professional certificate. Eventually, I would love to work as a book editor and shape a manuscript from submission to publication. For now, the unexpected offer to continue with Etruscan Press as a poetry manuscript consultant is satisfying.

My internship duties were primarily divided between proofreading and book reviewing. Before I approached Phil and Jackie about writing book reviews, I brought book review skills that I had begun to hone during my M.A. while reviewing memoirs for alumni Donna Talarico-Beerman’s Hippocampus Magazine, and a poetry review in [PANK] that I landed via another alum, Amye Barrese Archer. I wanted to offer Etruscan Press something in exchange for the chance to experience proofreading.

I worked harder on the book reviews than I expected to. While polishing them, I found my reviewer’s voice: a reader/writer that writes for readers/writers. Silly to say, but before the internship, I hadn’t considered my published book reviews as publishing credits. I followed up venues for book reviewing online sites that were in the Internship course packet. I was excited to see my reviews appear in Founding Editor Lori A. May’s Poet’s Quarterly and The Small Press Book Review.  As I heard back from gracious authors who appreciated the time I took to review their books, I realized that the more I submit my work, and the more conversations that I have with writers, an intimate and reciprocal writing community exists. I may have never considered writing book reviews as a regular goal, but because of breaks given to me by Wilkes alumni and the internship, I will continue reviewing. On February 1st, I am launching a book review blog to feature my wide-range of reading interests and books that I choose, instead of my editors. I can be indulgent and celebrate exceptional writing talent at the same time. I am not saying goodbye to the Wilkes Creative Writing Program as I had expected to. I forged and fostered relationships that weren’t forced but are authentic. One of my writing mentors, Neil Shepard often said to me, “Onward!” and that’s the plan.

Kim Loomis-Bennett is a life-long resident of Washington State, besides a detour into Oregon where she met her husband. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in The November 3rd Club, The Copperfield Review, Poet’s Quarterly, and Hippocampus Magazine. Recent work is included in The Prose-Poem Project and The Far Field. She has served as poetry editor for River and South Review. Kim also teaches part-time at Centralia College. She has an M.A. and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Her work, Soiled Doves: A Poetic Sequence, published in 2011, is available as an e-book.

AWP: An Opportunity to Exercise Literary Citizenship

January 22, 2014 by

AWP: An Opportunity to Exercise Literary Citizenship

by Lori A. May

The annual AWP Conference & Bookfair is just around the corner. This year, writers from across the country and beyond will gather in Seattle during Feb 26-Mar 1, 2014. AWP is by far my favorite literary gathering of the year. It is the one event I bookmark in my calendar years in advance and for which I schedule everything else around; it’s a must-attend event in my books. Just last year I wrote a brief introduction to AWP on my blog where I also shared an excerpt, “Chapter 12: AWP Membership and Services,” from The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students.

I often speak about what opportunities writers may find during AWP. Yet in addition to the socializing, schmoozing, and general knowledge intake, there are also countless ways in which to exercise literary citizenship. That is, AWP presents an open door for writers to help others during this whirlwind week of events.

But what is literary citizenship? And why, of all places, would an emerging writer elect to spend time doing activities seemingly unrelated to his or her own writing path?

Simply put, literary citizenship is a topical term for engaging in the community with the intent of giving as much as, if not more so, than we take. Our literary world is a social ecosystem that relies on others: readers, writers, editors, reviewers, publishers, booksellers, and so on. The writing and publishing world is one made of relationships. Writing itself may be a somewhat solitary activity, but once the story or poem is ‘done’ we rely on others to read, share, and publish our work. Yet there are so many levels of participation from others in this community. We turn to others for support after rejection; we hope others celebrate alongside our successes. We hope to develop positive connections with readers and editors; we long to feel a part of this community that has called us in some way to participate.

Yes, there is much to personally gain in becoming active members of the arts and at-large community, but literary citizenship calls on our acts of giving, of giving back to the ecosystem so that we may actively ensure its sustainability. The beautiful thing is that it needn’t take much time or skill to offer something of ourselves, of our passions, to others.

Simple acts of literary citizenship can include reviewing another’s book, helping set up a reading event, proofreading a peer’s draft, or simply showing up at an event and being mindfully present. These acts of kindness needn’t cost us a thing; the best ‘gifts,’ as in other aspects of life, come from an authentic place within. We know that giving, indeed, is better than receiving.

It is through my activity in the writing community-at-large that I feel more like a writer, like an engaged participant in this network of dedicated creatives. It is through my involvement with small presses and literary journals that I feel a part of something bigger than myself, better than my own small presence. Contributing to, and impacting, the literary world is something outside of our own selves, and yet it benefits our personal goals and ambitions as we can’t help but grow as writers, as people, when we step outside of our writing dens and into the buzz of literary culture.

AWP-logoHow, then, might a writer participate as a literary citizen during AWP? The organization itself has a number of volunteer opportunities to assist with the conference, but there are simple activities anyone, from any walk of literary life, can take under her wing during those few fast-paced days:

  • help a bookfair exhibitor hand out materials and attract passers-by for an hour
  • or, merely cover a coffee or lunch break for a bookfair exhibitor
  • offer your time to an off-site reading and help set up chairs or hand out programs
  • approach exhibitors you don’t know to introduce yourself to something new
  • ask a literary journal how you can volunteer as a book reviewer or marketing assistant
  • seek out publishers and writers from your region that you can help in some way when you both return home
  • introduce people you know to others you just met; help make connections for others
  • introduce yourself to the person behind you in the coffee line-up and ask what he’s writing/editing/publishing
  • take photos of panels and speakers and then send them to those speakers
  • when you meet a representative from a journal or publisher that doesn’t work with your genre, consider who you know that would find them a perfect fit and make that introduction
  • most of all, engage: attend panels and approach the speakers after their sessions; be helpful to newbies who need directions in and outside of the conference; and make it a goal to come away from the conference having met at least three or four new people—and then make a point of contacting these folks after the conference winds down

AWP hosts a world of opportunities—for your own writing life and for engaging with others throughout the year. Yes, it’s a somewhat hectic place with too much to do and too many people to meet, and yet that’s precisely why it’s a goldmine for making things happen, for meeting new people and jumpstarting relationships that can extend throughout the year, throughout your life as a writer.

Going into the conference with the mindset to give back, to assist where your help is welcome, and to connect with others in meaningful ways can help fine-tune your social map for the week. While there are countless ways to participate as a literary citizen and you should definitely customize what works for you, I hope you’ll have a look at a few additional resources I’m pleased to share:

  • In the May 2010 issue of The Writer (pg 8-9), I interviewed author Matt Bell, agent Andrea Hurst, editor Leah Maines, and author/editor Kate Gale about how to play an active part in the writing community (online link)
  • In November 2013, I shared a round-up of resources and discussions about literary citizenship on my blog (online link)

And, lastly, a personal offering; if you’d like to ask more specific questions about AWP or literary citizenship, feel free to contact me personally at lori@loriamay.com. I’ll do my best to give helpful responses—and I’d love to shake your hand in Seattle.

***

lori-a-mayLori A. May writes across the genres, road-trips half the year, and drinks copious amounts of coffee. Her books include Square Feet and The Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students. Her writing has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, Writer’s Digest, Brevity, Midwestern Gothic, and The Writer. Her editorial roles have included working with Kaylie Jones Books, Creative Nonfiction, and other independent presses. She is also the founding editor of Poets’ Quarterly. Lori is a graduate of the Wilkes University MFA program, where she was awarded the Norris Church Mailer Fellowship. She is a frequent guest speaker at writing conferences and residencies across North America. For more info, visit her website at www.loriamay.com.

New issue of River & South Review

January 15, 2014 by

wilkes street sign - Copy

River & South Review is a student-run literary journal edited by current students of the Wilkes University Creative Writing MA/MFA Programs. River & South Review publishes new work by emerging writers of any age who have not gone on to a graduate writing degree. This may include undergraduates, writers without a formal education, and writers from other professions.

The latest issue, Winter 13/14, is now available online: http://riverandsouth.blogspot.com

River & South Review is published twice annually.


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