Author Archive

Did You Know You Can SEO With an MFA? OMG!

June 1, 2011

My Creative Adventure in SEO
By Lauren Carey

Just before I finished my MA at Wilkes, I got a job at Solid Cactus as an SEO manager. My job actually lets me flex my creative muscles in ways I never thought possible. To me, this kind of work is just as exciting and validating as working on a great collection of poetry or a novel. If you like to write, you can have fun writing about virtually anything. And, luckily for me, I get to do a whole lot of writing each time I go to work.

My favorite part of the job has to be the blog posts. I manage about a dozen client blogs—and no two are the same. In the time I’ve been there, I’ve blogged for a wedding retailer, a gift shop, a candy store, a sex fetish shop, a seller of quality custom-made hair systems, and so many others. It’s always a challenge to come up with something interesting, relevant, and SEO-friendly.

SEO, for those who don’t know, is Search Engine Optimization. Basically, we make it so that your website looks good to search engines. (Granted, there’s so much more than that, but you get the idea.)

My supervisor, Alicia Magda, probably put it best: “SEO copy is both an art and a science. It’s the art of creating great copy, and the science of applying tried and true SEO techniques to that copy. Keywords should be worked into the copy naturally to grab the attention of search engine spiders, but innocuous enough to not detract from the reader experience.” So, essentially, if you write SEO copy you’re writing for both man and machine.

If Only...

(When the robots finally take over the world, SEO copywriters are going to be the only ones that survive.)

This is perfect for me. My creative writing journey started sometime in elementary school when I learned about haikus. I spent all my free time creating little poetic nuggets that fit into that 5-7-5 structure. I tried my hand at limericks, sonnets, and other poetry forms. I love taking creative thoughts and sticking them into little boxes. And SEO is all about boxes.

Who Am I Today?

Writing blogs for different companies is a blast. Every day I get to slip into a different persona. If I’m writing for the candy store, then I have to pretend that I actually work at the candy store—I live and breathe candy. I’ve heard writers say that sometimes their characters speak to them and take on a mind of their own. In my SEO job, I get to become my characters.

Many of my characters talk about the things that they’re going to do with their children over the holidays, how they’re going to decorate their new kitchen, or embarrassing things that happened to them before they found the right wig adhesive.

The Game of Keywords

Alicia also noted: “Creativity is crucial in SEO. Search engine spiders are becoming more advanced by the day and can tell the difference between copy that’s written for real people, and copy that’s meant to spam search engines. Successful SEO copy should engage and inform readers, whether you’re writing about candy or welding supplies.” (Or fire resistant apparel. Or performance auto parts…)

SEO managers spend time using various keyword research tools to determine the keyword phrases that will work the best for a particular website. Once that’s done, we have to incorporate those keyword phrases into the SEO copy. That’s probably the most creatively challenging part of the whole job. (And I LOVE it.) Search engine spiders aren’t dumb. They can sense keyword stuffing from a mile away. But you have to stuff those keywords in there, anyway. It’s an intricate balancing act, and it really tests your writing chops.

For instance, if I had the keyword phrase “glass vases,” I’d have to use that several times throughout a page of SEO copy. But I’d have to do it in such a way that you won’t really notice. Nobody’s going to enjoy reading an article that says, “Our glass vases are so much better than our competitors’ glass vases. These glass vases are the ideal solution for your glass vases needs. When you want the best glass vases for your home, you know where to look. Glass vases are the best way to dress up your home.” Ugh… Humans hate that, and search engine spiders hate that. They key is to work the keyword phrase into the copy in a sneaky and creative way. When I write SEO copy, I read over it afterwards. If I don’t notice the keyword phrase, then I’ve done my job.

My name isn’t attached to the pieces I write for my clients. But that’s fine. I’m not in this to get my name out there as a writer. I’m in this because I like to write. If a few people read my articles and blog posts and get something out of it, then that’s more than enough for me.

Funky Glasses. White Teeth. (All SEO Words!)

Lauren Carey served as the copy editor for Wilkes University’s undergraduate literary magazine, The Manuscript for four years. In her time in the Wilkes MA/MFA Creative Writing Program, she’s learned that creative writing comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s okay to step out of the box. She will complete her MFA in creative writing in June 2011, and she currently teaches English composition at Luzerne County Community College. Lauren is an SEO Manager at Solid Cactus, a Web.com company, in Shavertown, PA.

Screenwriters, Beggars, and Whores By Bill Prystauk

May 25, 2011

When I first heard about a one-page screenplay contest at Moviepoet, I gave pause. This site had offered this free contest in the past and my first one-page idea about a murder was ill received. The feedback, however, proved valuable and it was clear I hadn’t executed a story with a solid beginning, middle and end. And with the broad margins, type and spacing associated with screenwriting format, getting a story on one-page had proven difficult.

Though I never read the script, I’ve seen the short film “Shot of a Lifetime”  – a story told in a mere five seconds and it worked. This one-pager then, this one minute of film, was a challenge I wanted to meet head-on – Hell, I had another fifty-five seconds to play with. But coming up with a story that wasn’t the equivalent of a bad joke was far from difficult. I wanted to do something dramatic and poignant.  I’m not exactly sure where the idea came from, but I imagined a “manly” man cross-dressing for a contest, winning said contest, then going home in drag to confront his wife. I pounded out the story of “Catalyst” in short order, revised and tweaked and submitted.

When the results came out a month later, I was disappointed. My script hadn’t even earned an honorable mention. Most comments involved questions that could only be answered if the script was a feature. Many people (it’s open judging for any writer logging into the site once registering for free) could not determine where the “catalyst for change” even appeared in the script. Needless to say, it was evident I had written something obscure and I hadn’t delivered my tale completely.

Rejection Hurts, But Can Lead to Better Writing

Theme had apparently been unclear and my beginning, middle and end didn’t work. As a writer, I had failed. Regardless, I had other scripts to write and would simply learn from the exercise to tell a better story.

But that was a lie. I knew in my heart the story was solid and that in one-minute I had delivered a complete tale to the audience. The story made sense, the catalyst for change was clear and the theme was solid. Then, I received some more feedback from a couple of people who had voted on the scripts for the contest. They thought the script was “brilliant.” One, a close friend, Chris Messineo, who didn’t know I had penned the screenplay because it was blind viewing, thought it was the greatest short I had ever written. Damn. He encouraged me to send it elsewhere and try to get it produced. (When Chris is thrilled about something, he means it.)

Remarkably, I discovered a one-page script contest from WILDsound in Toronto. I entered and soon learned I was a Finalist. Actors in Toronto then performed the script on-stage and the clip was placed on the WILDsound site. The bad news: Judging would be determined by internet voting. For the first time, the fate of my work would not be handled by a group of professional writers, producers, directors or even agents. I was suddenly in the midst of a popularity contest.

Of course I wantedto win. After all, the winner would have his/her short produced. This meant the writer would receive that all-important screen credit – something every screenwriter lives for. So I did something I loathed and despised: I contacted everyone I knew via WebCT, Facebook and regular email to get them to vote – as well as their families and friends, and so on.

Even America's Sweetheart Spent Time on the Streets

I told Ken Vose, a screenwriter in the Wilkes University MFA Program, that I felt like a beggar and a whore, to which Ken replied, “You’re a screenwriter. You’ll be a beggar and a whore forever. Get used to it.” I continued to beg right up to the very end – but ultimately fell short by a handful of votes. “Catalyst” came in second place.

Chris Messineo, the man behind Off-Stage Films and the New Jersey Film School, made me feel a little better. Apparently, the winner of the previous WILDsound contest had his film shot and it was awful. Not the story per se, but its filming. I found the short films of previous winners and noticed that the lighting was bad, many camera angles were weak and the overall feel was one of sterility. Still, I was out of a much desired credit and now had another script that would just collect dust in a drawer. The announcement of “Catalyst” as a produced piece of creative work would not appear in my CV, making that tenure tract position at Kutztown University all the more harder to attain.

I was ticked.

Then, something unbelievable happened.  Out of the blue a high school friend, Debbie Valenta, contacted me from Los Angeles. She had produced several films and worked with Roger Corman for a couple of years. Debbie had recently formed a yet unnamed production company with two other women and was looking for a short script they could film. She knew I wrote screenplays, and even read “Catalyst” when I was “begging and whoring” for votes on Facebook. I submitted four short scripts – and they chose “Catalyst.” Collectively, they loved the story. Whew. The tale did indeed work and my original gut feeling was validated. The only dilemma, and it was a small one, was that they wanted the short to be five to ten minutes long.  Knowing Debbie’s level of expertise and penchant for detail, I am not concerned about the film’s quality. However, I realize that not winning the WILDsound contest may have been the best thing possible for me. This is made clear by the fact this new production company will use “Catalyst” as their calling card to attract investors and talent. In the world of screenwriting, that’s a big deal.  Regardless, even though the script hasn’t been shot yet, it has the best chance of seeing the light of day. And if it does, I will get that credit and maybe more opportunities will come my way if the short is well received. Time will tell.

Once again, the advice to all writers is not to quit. And even if your script is shopped around, this does not mean you can’t resubmit years later. Ken Vose recently sold a horror script that is older than me, as he told me.  As long as we’re honest about the quality of our writing, there is a chance that work will find a home somewhere, and this goes for all screenwriters, playwrights, poets, fiction and non-fiction writers.  Sure, we may feel like we’re a “beggar and a whore” on occasion, but as long as we’re respectful and devoid of cockiness, we’re simply just asking to be heard. We’re pitching. We’re selling. Just like we do in an interview for a job. And if we don’t sell ourselves we’ll never achieve anything with our writing.

Who is Bill Prystauk?

In 2011, Bill’s dramatic horror, “Ravencraft” is currently a Top-Three Finalist in the 2011 AWS Screenplay Contest. His dramatic ghost story, “Risen” was the First Place Winner in the 2010 Horror Screenplay Contest and is currently being shopped around Hollywood. Furthermore, Bill’s character driven, crime/action/horror script “Red Agenda” was the First Place Winner in the 2008 International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival and was a Top-Five Finalist at Screamfest. In 2006, he was the Second Place Winner of the Screenwriters Showcase Screenplay Contest for his erotic crime thriller, “Bloodletting,” which is now a novel under consideration by award winning, Akashic Books.

Bill Prystauk Loves a Pink Background

Bill has also won numerous awards for other screenplays as well as poetry. He completed the Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University in June 2011 to earn his MFA with concentrations in screenwriting and fiction. Bill currently teaches English at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, and is exploring the use of homes in horror movies in his book, “Home is Where the Horror is.”

An Interview with Patricia Harman

May 19, 2011

Patricia Harman is a mother.  She is a wife.  She is a midwife.  Now, she belongs to an elite group of writers who have written multiple memoirs.   After the success of her first memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown, a story of the babies she helped bring into the world, Harman felt a need to tell her own storyArms Wide Open, her newly released second memoir, is just that.

Arms Wide Open is Harman's second memoir

It is the story of how a young, hippie woman living on a self-sustainable commune, came to be an influential member of the medical community.  I reviewed Harman’s book for Hippocampus Magazine last month, and she was nice enough to grant me an interview shortly thereafter.  Here is our Q&A:

How different was the process of writing this book, compared to writing The Blue Cotton Gown?
My first memoir, The Blue Cotton Gown, didn’t start off as a memoir.  I just wanted to tell the stories of the amazing patients I met in the exam room of the OB/GYN practice I share with my husband.  Gradually, I realized I needed to tell more and I began to weave my narrative in with the patient’s.  I decided to write Arms Wide Open because readers asked me about references to living in a rural commune in the Blue Cotton GownAha! Thinks I.  That could be another book!  While The Blue Cotton Gown was written during the days that lived it, Arms Wide Open went back decades into my past.  I had the advantage of having some twenty or so journals hidden in a box in the closet, that I’d kept, but not opened, all these years.   

The first part of the book deals with your self-sustainable life in Minnesota, and the cabin in which you, Stacy, and Mica lived alone.   There were times I would almost cry for you, it sounded and felt so difficult.  Would you do it again?  What did it teach you?

I currently live in on three acres of land with a vegetable garden, woods, fruit trees, a view of the lake, and all the modern conveniences, but I do sometimes wish we lived more rurally.  Though subsisting without electricity, central heat, running water or a bathroom wasn’t fun at times, there was a simplicity and closeness to nature that I miss.   I think what I learned from those times is “Moderation in all things.”  We thought we could save the world being witnesses for a very pure life on the land, but we were so extreme it didn’t make sense to anyone.

Despite most of the book’s narrative happening at the tail end of the civil unrest of the 60’s and early 70’s, you manage to keep politics out of your story, for the most part.  Was this difficult for you?  Was that a choice you made consciously?  
In the first draft I was more political and I consciously took some of that out; not because I wanted to hide my true beliefs, but because I felt it would date the book.  When you finish a manuscript, you don’t know when it will be published.  I thought, for example, if I wrote about the presidential election of 2008, the book would seem past tense by 2011.   I did mention “the wars in the middle east” and how I felt about them, but that was a safe bet! Ten years from now, they will probably still be fighting.  I also made it clear we believe that war isn’t the solution to the division of the world’s precious resources.  I tried not to get on a soapbox and be preachy about the environment or to sound like I was giving a lecture.

In Arms Wide Open, you talk a lot about natural childbirth.  Do you still embrace that concept so strongly?  Why do you think there has been a return to those ideals as of late?

Harman during her "hippie" days

I embrace the idea of natural childbirth more strongly than ever.  I don’t think everyone has to have their baby at home, but as much as possible, I would want for women and their partners to experience birth as it was meant to be, a simple, transcendent experience.  Technology and medical malpractice lawyers have taken something precious away from us.  Birth should be a feminist issue again and I think that is starting, partly because the C/Section rate in the United States is so out of control.  33%.  That’s right.  1 out of 3 women now have their baby born by major abdominal surgery.  Not the way things should be…..Don’t get me started!

Since you are a politically minded person, I’d love to ask your opinion on healthcare.  Are we heading down the right road?  Is universal healthcare attainable?  And should it be?

The health care system in the US is in very bad shape.  This year the Health Insurance Industry has made record profits as patients postpone surgeries because they can’t afford their big deductibles.  Then there are the 46 million Americans with no health insurance at all. This, in the richest nation in the world.

We have a summer cottage in Canada and we get to know the locals up there and have learned so much about their national healthcare system.  We are definitely supporters of some kind of universal health insurance in the US.  It’s the strength of the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies that make reform difficult.  Their propaganda have the American public so terrified of change, that even if it would benefit them, people vote against it.

Little by little, I believe things will get better.  In the recent health care reform bill, just having young adults able to stay on their parent’s insurance plans until they are 26 is a help and there are other benefits to children.  They can’t be denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions anymore.  The Children’s Health Insurance Program (Chip) was extended and all health insurance plans must now provide immunizations and other preventive care for kids.

Finally, you belong to a small group of writers who have written two or more memoirs, will you do it again?  Is there more you’d like to share with your fans? 

Patricia "Patsy" Harman

Currently, I decided to stop milking my own life for stories before readers get sick of me.  I’m working on a novel, set in the Great Depression in West Virginia.  The heroine is an inexperienced midwife, a former suffragette and union radical, on the run, hiding out in the mountains.  I imagine I will write about myself again, someday.  I still have all those journals in the box and have had adventures that astound even me.

**Arms Wide Open is available now on Amazon, or through your local independent bookseller.  For more on Patricia Harman, please visit her website.

Ten Ideas for Keepin’ it Real

May 12, 2011

Preparing for writing success demands common sense and self care

by Gale Martin

You’ve just completed your novel, your memoir, or your chapbook. You’ve gotten strong feedback from your beta-reader(s) or an outside evaluator through the Wilkes University Creative Writing program where you’ve received unprecedented access to the almighty gatekeepers—agents and editors. Maybe you attended a conference and pitched your book to an agent who requested a complete manuscript. Nothing can stop you now. Surely, you’ll have a publishing contract in hand within months, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. According to Putting Your Passion into Print, more than 150,000 books are conventionally published every year. That’s an incredibly large number of publishing opportunities compared to the number of screenplays actually made into feature length films every year. There’s plenty of room for good books—yours included.

Statistics such as ‘less than five percent of popular booksellers total sales are bestsellers’ provide reason enough to be optimistic that you may one day join the ranks of published authors. That is, if you don’t expect too much success too soon. That’s the fastest route to burnout. Expecting to be the next overnight writing sensation might be the single greatest handicap to the writing career you so desperately seek. Prepare instead for a long slog. Commit yourself and your faculties to writerly habits and a lifestyle that can sustain you and your writing career.

Keep writing.  After I wrote my first novel in 2005, I was so proud of the fact that I’d completed a work of fiction, I used to carry it around with me wherever I went. After a few months, a pair of tired arms, and only one nibble from an agent, I realized that completing a novel was only the beginning of my writerly journey. I began writing flash fiction, short stories, and humorous essays while I began plotting my next novel. One of the writers I follow on Twitter who is also a literary agent never sold his first book—the one he was certain would sell. But sold plenty after that. So, keep writing. It’s never good to pin your hopes to one manuscript.

The Raven's Bride by Lenore Hart

Not to mention that editors and agents want writers who are good for more than one book. One of the Wilkes’ faculty members Lenore Hart sold her latest book The Raven’s Bride before it was written. Her publisher was banking on Lenore’s reputation for producing another publishable novel.

Keep submitting other work elsewhere.  As long as you continue writing, you’ll not only be honing your craft, have work to submit to publications and contests. For most of us, rejections far outweigh acceptances. You have to submit a critical level of work before the odds start turning in your favor. Once they do, every acceptance is validation to stay the course and builds confidence which you’ll need for more rejections and the inevitable slog.

Set reasonable goals.  In recent craft classes at Wilkes, writer Lori A. May shared a framework for goal setting for a rich, focused writing career. Her model encourages writers to think in bigger chunks beyond the next story, the next month, the next acceptance. Set goals that will stretch you. But don’t doom yourself to failure either by comparing yourself to someone who’s achieved instant publishing success or setting irrational goals, such as, “Will have literary representation in one month.” Perhaps you won’t. I just interviewed a writer on my blog Scrivengale who has published four books but doesn’t have an agent. Make your goal instead, “Will query five agents every month.”

Volunteer to judge a contest. Reading others writers’ work with whom you’re not competing head to head, within your cohort or in the Wilkes program in general, can be eye-opening. It’s a productive way to learn from others’ mistakes and successes while being a good literary citizen.

Look for outlets to read your work. If none exist, create one. One of the great privileges published authors enjoy is the chance to read their work in public venues. In the Wilkes program, students are given several opportunities to do that. Once you’re out of the program, it’s one of the things you miss most.

Public Readings Provide Exposure

At least I did because I love reading my work. Not seeing anything available in her hometown, one of the students in my cohort Ally Bishop went out and created an outlet for writers in Central Pennsylvania to read their work—published and unpublished—readings in which I’ve taken part. I know other Wilkes students are following Ally’s example, approaching galleries, book shops, and coffee shops about offering literary readings.

Get a writing group together. Writing is an insular life. If you don’t have an editor to give you pause to think about your narrative arc, to redirect your work, you would probably benefit from participating in a writing group. I said a writing group, not a shredding group. I’ve been in a shredding group—an utter waste of time and potentially devastating. If you can find a handful of other writers committed to careful reading and constructive criticism, it helps fill the gap left between working with a faculty mentor or a professional editor and writing in solitude.

Explore other avenues of sharing your work, like Scribd. I just learned about www.scribd.com, a social publishing site, where tens of millions of people share original writings and documents. One young woman who wrote a memoir but couldn’t obtain any interest from a conventional publisher, shared her memoir in segments on Scribd, obtaining three thousand readers per post. Few bloggers can attract that volume of readership. It may be worth your time investigating.

Write something for sheer enjoyment. I’m not sure where I heard about this online writing community at The Write Idea, an international group of poets and prose writers, but for three years now I have participated in a nine-round fiction contest with some of the most generous, talented writers I’ve ever met. It is sheer fun to receive the prompts, chat them up on the site, and see how everyone fares following each round of judging. This contest is something I do just for the love of writing and as such, the sustenance it offers me is invaluable.

Create something for sheer enjoyment. I read Jane Friedman’s blog There Are No Rules  regularly, which is how I learned about Scribd. In one of her columns, Jane also mentioned a site called About.me, which allows writers and other creatives the chance to create a free splash page, in lieu of a full-blown website. It was a great exercise trying to encapsulate my writing experience and persona into a splash page and lots of fun doing so.

Strive for a more balanced life. Shortly after I finished the Wilkes program, I needed a month to thaw out, having combined my studies with demanding full-time jobs. Then I looked around my very untidy house, threw myself into some cleaning projects, and planned an anniversary celebration. I also recommitted myself to regular church attendance and singing in the choir, which meant rehearsing one night a week away from my *sigh* laptop, which I was certain was attached to my fingers. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the level of life balance I enjoyed before I began writing creatively, but the writing schedule a master’s or MFA program demands wasn’t going to sustain my marriage or a life well-lived. I simply had to make some changes.

To outsiders, it may appear that I’ve ratcheted down my expectations for my publishing career, but that’s not an accurate assessment of my approach to my post-Wilkes writing. I’m merely steeling myself for a long slog but fully intending to appreciate any smaller success along the way.

Gale Martin

Gale Martin has been writing creatively since 2005. Recent accolades include first-place in short fiction from the 2009 Writers-Editors International and Scratch writing competitions. She also received her first Pushcart Prize nomination in 2009 for a short story published in Greensilk Journal. Her work has appeared online and in print in various publications such as The Christian Science Monitor, Sirens Magazine, Duck & Herring Company’s Pocket Field Guide, and The Giggle Water Review and in several anthologies. She hosts a writing blog called “Scrivengale.”

She hosts an opera blog, “Operatoonity,” and is the accredited Metropolitan Opera reviewer for Bachtrack, an online site featuring classical performance. She lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which serves as a rich source of inspiration for her writing.

An Agent’s Take on Query Letters

May 2, 2011

So you’ve written your book.  You’ve crossed every T, dotted every i, (you don’t own a computer, I’m assuming?), and you’ve arced every character.    Now what?  The manuscript over which you have carefully toiled for the last year or two is ready to find a home.  First stop?  The dreaded query letter.  Whether you are heading to the small presses, or looking for an agent, almost every outlet for your book will require a query letter.  For some, this comes easy.  For others, it can be a task as arduous as writing the book itself.

I recently spoke with Sarah LaPolla, an agent with Curtis Brown in New York City.  Sarah is a generous agent who shares her insights with the writing community through her blog, Big Glass Cases.  On her blog she also publishes excerpts of manuscripts from new authors, allowing them some much-needed exposure.

Sarah LaPolla of Curtis Brown, LTD

Sarah is more than an agent, she is also a writer.  She received her MFA in Creative Writing from The New School.  This gives her a unique bond with her clients, making her an approachable champion of the craft.  In our interview I asked Sarah about her thoughts on the do’s and don’ts of querying, and what projects she’s interested in right now.

Q:  What are two or three simple things you look for in a successful query?

Sarah:  To me, a query is written successfully if it a) says what the book is about in a few short, descriptive sentences and b) follows my guidelines, which means via email and pasting the first five pages into the body of the email.

Q:  How many queries do you receive in any given week, and do you read each one personally?

I receive anywhere from 150 to 200 queries a week via email. I do read each one personally and respond to each one. I hate the “form rejection,” but it’s a necessary evil and I always feel that someone would rather have acknowledgment, even if it’s a rejection, than be left in the dark.

Q:  Does humor have a place in a query letter? (Please don’t say no, please don’t say no…)

Of course! There’s a difference between being funny and being kitschy, but being funny can be a huge asset for your query. You want to show personality, especially if the project itself is funny. One thing that writers sometimes do is write the query in the voice of their main character, which I think they think is funny or clever, but it’s always just awkward to read. So, use your humor well! Don’t force it, but don’t be afraid to be yourself either.

Q:  Do agents like to see that pieces of the manuscript were published elsewhere?

I don’t think it’s necessary to say that in a query letter, unless the publication is a major one.

Q:  What’s the number one mistake you see in query letters?

Not including a title. If you don’t have a title, make one up just for query purposes. I think a lot of writers have the mentality that a publisher will change it anyway, so they just don’t include one. Sometimes the publisher will change a title, but not every time. Plus, not only do I want to call it something, but I like to see the author’s own creativity.

 Q:  How much does the market (in terms of what’s hot in stores right now) play into what you are willing to represent?

The market is certainly a factor. For example, I say all the time (online) that I am tired of vampires and part of that is a personal preference, but another part of that is that the market is just over them for now. I emphasize “for now” because all trends come and go. If I have enough of an interest in a project, even if it’s not “hot” right now, that wouldn’t stop me from taking it on. A good story is a good story. There’s always room for that.

Q:  What brought you into the world of agenting?

Sarah: My desire to work in publishing brought me to New York, and from there I trolled craigslist and mediabistro for internships until I found one at a small literary agency. It wasn’t where I thought I’d be, but it was definitely what I knew I wanted to continue. A friend I used to intern with told me about a job opening in the foreign rights department at Curtis Brown, so I applied and a little over two years later, they let me start developing my own list.  

Q:  In terms of new clients, what are your interests right now?

I really, really want to see a scary horror novel (preferably with ghosts, but it can be more traditional too!) for YA and a Tana French-like mystery for either YA or adult. A well-written science fiction for YA would be great too – like a new Ender’s Game

Q:  Finally, what is one book that changed your life?

"It made me fall in love with YA," Sarah says of The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Wow. Actually, I want to think this is a hard question, but it’s really not for me. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I read it when I was 14 or 15, which was the year it came out. It was about a 15 year old who felt alienated, which is pretty much every 15 year old. But I absolutely fell in love with the main character and his friends. I wanted to be in their group, even though they were somessed up.  

  I’ve tried to read it every year since then, so I’ve read it many, many times. Every time I find something else to connect with, even if it’s not the teen angst anymore. It’s just a brilliant book. It made me fall in love with YA, and it actually introduced me to YA. I doubt my love of books would be as great without it, so who knows if I’d even work in this field if it was never published.

If you’d like to query Sarah, please visit the Curtis Brown website for the proper guidelines.   I also encourage you to visit her blog, where you will not only read some insider tips, but will find new and exciting voices, as well.  I want to thank Sarah for stopping by The Write Life and answering my questions.

We Want to Do His Work Justice

April 20, 2011

This week’s post is from author and Wilkes Faculty Member, Kaylie Jones.  Kaylie, daughter of American writer James Jones, has recently embarked on a journey to release her father’s manuscript From Here to Eternity, uncensored.  The way the great writer intended it to be.  In this personal reflection, Kaylie talks about her father’s vision for the book, and his incredible insight into the human condition.

Jamie, James Jones, and Kaylie

This is the table in the house our parents rented in Skiathos, Greece, where our dad told us the story of THE ILIAD for the first time.  He explained, to our great surprise, that Achilles was gay and Patrocles was his lover, and that was why Achilles got so angry when Patrocles was killed. I wrote about this in my memoir, LIES MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME. My brother and I thought he was making it up.

Our father was 24 years old in 1943, when he decided he wasn’t going to fight anymore. He was disgusted and enraged by the army’s red-tape bureaucracyby the fact that when the wounded soldiers came home from the war, they were treated badly and without respect. He went AWOL several times, until they threw him in the stockade. When asked by an army psychiatrist why he was acting this way, he said he’d killed an emaciated Japanese soldier in hand-to-hand combat on Guadalcanal and he never intended to kill anyone ever again. If that made him crazy, then so be it. The army finally discharged him as unfit for duty in 1944, and gave him a pension. When FROM HERE TO ETERNITY was published in 1951, the army took his pension away, because they decided that anyone who could write a book couldn’t be all that crazy.

We have the letters he wrote to his editor at Scribner, Burroughs Mitchell, fighting and arguing to keep every f-word and c-word; every reference to homosexual sex; every scene of masturbation, in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY – and more often than not, he was overruled. What he cared about was depicting the reality of life in the pre-war army. The US Postal Service would not ship the book if it contained “prurient” language or scenes. His response to his editor was: “The things we change in this book for propriety’s sake will in five years, or ten years, come in someone else’s book anyway, that may not be as good as this one, and then we will kick ourselves for not having done it, and we will not have been first with this … and we will wonder why we thought we couldn’t do it. Writing has to keep evolving into deeper honesty, like everything else, and you cannot stand on past precedent or theory, and still evolve … You know there is nothing salacious in this book as well as I do. therefore, whatever changes you want made along that line will be made for propriety, and propriety is a very inconstant thing.”

My brother and I have wanted to publish an uncensored, unexpurgated version of the original manuscript for a long time, and Open Road Media‘s enthusiasm and energy for the project matched ours. Over the last few days this new edition has gotten a good deal of attention in the press — in The New York Times; on BBC News; and Perez Hilton‘s site.

My father believed that there has been and will be homosexual sex in the armed forces since armies have existed, which means, pretty much since men figured out how to band together and club each other on the head. He didn’t think it was a big deal and wanted people to be open and honest about it. He also believed that who a person likes to sleep with is hardly the point when you are lying in a foxhole with the enemy advancing upon you; what matters is if the person will stay cool and focused under fire. He didn’t see much progress in this area in his life time.

There are also sections of a novel of his that never was published, a first attempt, that we are going to release to the world. It is called TO THE END OF THE WAR. His scenes of the home front in 1943 are unlike anything else I’ve ever read. The soldiers, recovering from their wounds in a Memphis army hospital, are steeling themselves to be shipped back out overseas. They all know they’re being sent to England to prepare for the invasion of Normandy. They also know they don’t stand a chance of surviving this time. Some of their wounds are very serious, but the army doesn’t give them a break. And they are changed, psychically broken in some fundamental way. They can’t sleep at night, and would rather be back in the jungle with their old outfits, but their old outfits don’t exist anymore. They’ve kept track of everyone, and everyone is KIA, MIA, or transferred. The civilian population likes its heroes, just as long the heroes don’t act out, or talk too much, or need too much attention. So the soldiers learn to put on fronts, to wear the mask the world wants them to wear. My dad understood so much about human nature at such an early age, I can hardly believe it. There is only one writer I can think of who got this and took it a step further – Tim O’Brien, in THE THINGS THEY CARRIED. In his book, it’s the narrator who puts on the fronts, who lies, who tricks us, the readers, all in order to show us that there is no way in hell we, as civilians, will ever understand war.

Beyond National Poetry Month

April 11, 2011

In celebration of National Poetry Month, we bring you a thoughtful reflection by Brian Fanelli, poet and Wilkes University Creative Writing Alumni.

Beyond National Poetry Month
by: Brian Fanelli

It’s that time of year again. The temperatures are climbing. The snow is melting. Birds are chirping. And it’s April—National Poetry Month. This year, National Poetry Month has the support of one of the biggest celebrities in the world—Oprah. The current issue of her magazine, O, is guest-edited by Maria Shriver and features a lengthy section on poetry. The fact that a magazine as mainstream as O has caught on to National Poetry Month has sparked more public discourse regarding the relevance of National Poetry Month and whether or not the month does more harm than good for poetry. But what few people seem to be asking is how to get poetry into communities and schools beyond the month of April.

Started by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month aims to “widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic, range, and concern,” according to the organization’s website, www.poets.org.

Poetry, O! Style

O’s special poetry issue caught the attention of New York Times writer David Orr, who in his article, “Oprah’s Adventures in Poetry,” pointed out some of the positive and negatives of a magazine as mainstream as O trying to make poetry cool and accessible to the general public, using quotes about poetry from celebrities such as Bono, James Franco, Mike Tyson, and Ashton Kutcher to do so.

First, Orr cracks that only a “snob or idiot” would complain if Oprah’s magic wand is waved his or her way. He also confesses that he tried to get his latest book about poetry, Beautiful and Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry, covered in the special poetry issue.  Second, he does point out that the magazine runs an intelligent book section under the direction of former Publishers Weekly editor Sara Nelson, who employs some excellent critics, including Francine Prose. Furthermore, the special poetry issue does have its strengths, including a profile on W.S. Merwin, thus exposing him to a readership that may have never heard of him otherwise, despite the fact he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1971 and 2009.

However, Orr also points out some of the absurdities of the magazine’s attempt to seriously cover poetry. He criticizes some of the questions the magazine asks poets, including “where do poems come from,” and the answers that make it sound like poetry is “God’s own electric Kool-Aid acid test.” In addition, the magazine’s spotlight on poetry mostly includes poets already well-known, including Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, and Maya Angelou.

Orr also admits, and this can also be said for the attempt of National Poetry Month to make poetry mainstream, that “the chasm between the audience for poetry and the audience for O is vast, and not even the mighty Oprah can build a bridge from empty air.” Some attempts to make poetry cool can seem silly, including a section that features “eight rising poets” posing for spring fashion shoots.

Orr’s commentary about bringing poetry to the mainstream during one month out of the year isn’t totally new. Charles Bernstein, one of the pioneers of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E POETRY, railed against National Poetry Month in his essay “Against Natural Poetry Month and Such.” He wrote, “Promoting poetry as if it were an ‘easy listening station’ just reinforces the idea that poetry is culturally irrelevant and has done a disservice not only to poetry deemed too controversial or difficult to promote, but also to the poetry it puts forward in this way. ‘Accessibility’ has become a kind of moral imperative based on the condescending notion that readers are intellectually challenged, and mustn’t be presented with anything but safe poetry.”

It’s obvious how Bernstein would feel about O magazine getting poets to pose for photo spreads in $500 outfits.

Still, though, despite some of his criticisms, Orr does credit Oprah for at least trying to bring poetry to a wider readership. He again praises the profile of Merwin and the book list the magazine provides for anyone first getting into poetry. But what Orr, O, and even Bernstein fail to address is how to bring poetry to a larger audience beyond the month of April.

Some suggestions about bringing poetry to a wider readership were made by Dana Gioia in his essay “Can Poetry Matter?,” and a lot of the suggestions still work well today, including his idea that mixing poetry with other creative mediums, such as music or art, is one way to bring in new readers. His suggestion for poets to share a poem or two by another writer at a public reading is also a good idea and a way to expose audience members to other poets.

In today’s social media age, it’s easier to bring poetry to others. Why not post a line or two from a poet as a Facebook status or a Twitter update? Poets and poetry readers can also use those networking sites to promote readings and books by other poets. All it takes is a quick click of the mouse.

In addition, anyone talented at poetry should consider spreading his or her knowledge and love of the craft by getting out into the community, doing readings, residencies, and workshops. Community art spaces often welcome such events. It doesn’t take a magazine as big as O to bring poetry to a wider readership, nor should it only happen one month out of the year.

Brian Fanelli

Brian Fanelli is the author of the chapbook Front Man, a series of narrative poems about a fictitious front man of a punk rock band. His poetry has recently been published by Young American Poets, Indigo Rising Magazine, Boston Literary Magazine, WritingRaw.com, Chiron Review, and Word Riot. He finished his M.F.A. in creative writing from Wilkes University in 2010, and he currently teaches writing and literature at Keystone College. Visit him at www.brianfanelli.com.

The Write Life Returns!

March 30, 2011

Welcome back to The Write Life, the official blog of the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program.  As you can see, we have changed things up a bit.  Each week, we will be posting articles written by professionals from every nook and cranny of the writing industry.  These articles, essays, and personal experiences are meant to enhance your writing life, and to provide you with the tools to sustain an independent career.

My name is Amye Archer, and I will be your host and guide as we traverse this literary landscape.

Your Tour Guide!

I am an MFA student at Wilkes, and will be graduating this June.  I am a mother of four-year-old twin girls, and I also teach part time at some local universities.  As a writing mom, I will also be sharing some of my experiences with you as I try to balance writing and family.

The Write Life is a collaborative effort, written by writers for writers.  With this in mind, we’d love your feedback.  Please feel free to submit ideas for future posts or any ideas or suggestions to  amyeba@gmail.com In the upcoming weeks, The Write Life will feature craft articles, Q&A’s with agents, advice from editors, and personal accounts of people writing  in every genre.   Some areas of the site are still under construction, so bear with us!  We look forward to providing you with valuable resources to help create your Write Life!