Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wesleyan Writers Conference One-Day Event, Part Two

For those of you who haven't read the first part of this entry, click here.

Last time, I wrote about the classes I attended at the Wesleyan Writers Conference One-Day Event. In this blog, I'll continue with the two panels I attended, dinner, and the Padraic Colum Evening, which ended the one-day session.

World Music Hall

We had a half-hour break between the poetry class and our next event, held at World Music Hall. That event was a panel entitled "Blogs and Digital Media." The three people on the panel were Ron Hogan, Kit Reed, and Alexander Chee--who had taught the novel-writing class in the morning. The topic was "Authorial Presence Online," though the part that most interested me concerned how to gain readers. As of this writing, I have only three people who have linked to my blog, and while I know of at least one other person who has bookmarked the page, that's not a large total. Then again, I only started this blog a month or so ago, so I hope that by following their advice (send out a mass email--check; put links on facebook every time you write a new entry--check), I'll eventually get more followers.

They also talked a little bit about their blogs (except for Kit, who doesn't have any--though she used to be part of one of the early web communities, and maybe still is) and gave examples of good blogs to check out. Though, as Alex pointed out, you shouldn't read other blogs when creating your own blog. I think he meant that you shouldn't read other blogs looking for ideas on what to do for your blog. Basically, blogs should show the personality of the author and be about something the author is passionate about. That's why I hope to include more writing pieces in this blog, so that I'm not discussing the writing process all the time. Once I start publishing poems in magazines and start looking for an agent, I should also have more to write about. But, since this is an interactive format, feel free to comment on what's in this blog and what you feel should be in this blog. I might tell you to go to hell, or I might tell you that your idea is a good one.

Back to the conference. More advice was to be engaged with other blogs and to link up to blogs you like (asking for permission first, of course). So, I will try to comment more on the blogs I read, too. This also leads into something that was said in the next panel, held at the Center for the Arts Cinema.

Center for the Arts Cinema

That panel was called "Publishing Today and Advice for Writers." On the stage sat Abigail Holstein (editor), Julie Barer (agent), Ravi Shankar (webzine publisher and teacher of the poetry class in the morning), Lexy Bloom (editor), Josh Henkin (writer), and Johnny Temple (publisher). Johnny gave the opening remarks, detailing how he went from Wesleyan graduate to being in a rock and roll band to a small press book publisher (he publishes Akashic Books, whose motto is "Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World"). Since he had to leave in the middle of the discussion that followed, he left brochures for Akashic Books at the table where he sat. Thumbing through mine, I think I am too average to belong in his catalog of eclecticism (and yes, I made up that last word).

This panel included much great information, so I'll try to include the best nuggets here. When giving their introductions, the editors said that they look at voice and characters when deciding whether or not to publish a book. I don't remember if Julie (agent) agreed with them, but I'm guessing she did. Speaking of Julie, she said the best thing we can do to support new writers is to go out and buy hardcover books by them. After all, if we don't buy their books, why should we think that people will buy ours, when the time comes? Just like commenting on other blogs keeps us engaged in that world, buying books keeps us engaged in the literary world.

I should mention that Lexy is Josh's editor, so part of the focus, and what could be seen clearly between them, is the author/editor relationship. Writing may be a difficult business, publishing even more so, but it comforted me to see how well this editor and this author got along. In fact, all of the women on the panel were young and energetic, and if these two editors and one agent are representative of the publishing world as a whole, authors are in very good hands. Once they break through, of course.

Speaking of which, Julie (agent) mentioned that new authors only get one chance to impress an agent, so make sure the book is DONE before sending it out. She also clarified something pointed out in On Writing, which concerns taking a break between the writing of the first and second draft of a novel. She said to take off several weeks or several months between each draft, so that you can return to it fresh. So, when is the book done? According to her, when you've worked on it so much that you're sick of it. I think a better way to think of it is how Josh (writer) alluded to it--when you know your novel inside and out, it's done. At that point, everything in the book that should be in there is in there, and everything that shouldn't be in there, isn't (my opinion).

Since there was so much good advice given, I'll only include one more piece of advice here, given by Josh, and one that is critical. In regards to not sending out your novel too early (before you know it), he said to be open to change, but not to change something just because someone--whether it be an agent or an editor--tells you to. In his case, he changed all but 10 or 15 percent of his latest novel from the proposal to its revised form (following Lexy's letter about what she thought he should change in the novel), but he did it because he felt it needed to be changed. As he pointed out, if you split the word "revision" into its components, it means "to see something anew."

After the panel was over, we had a chance to talk one-on-one with all of the panel guests--minus, Johnny. We also could buy books by Ravi (a poetry book called Instrumentality) and Josh (who has written two books to date, the latest being Matrimony). I looked at Matrimony, but was turned off by discovering that some of it takes place in a writing workshop (the Iowa Writers Workshop, according to No thanks. I don't need to read about struggling writers. Looking at several poems in Instrumentality, however, I was struck at how good the language was. I turned it over. $16. Putting it back on the table, I decided to think about it.

I got to talk to Ravi first, even though I was originally in line to talk to Julie. I introduced myself, he introduced hisself, and we shook hands. He publishes poetry on the webzine Drunken Boat, but since they're working on the annual right now, they're not taking submissions. He told me they would start taking submissions again in August. I showed him my poetry book (I had brought a copy). He looked at the back and saw that I had gone to JMU. He had gone to UVa.

In response to my questions about first books of poetry and themes (I told him what I had in mind for my next collection of poetry), he said the first book of poetry is usually the 50 best poems by the poet. As for themes, they can be loose themes, since poems don't have to be placed in the context of a strict narrative. I told him I might buy his book, then got back in line for Julie.

I introduced myself to Julie, but we did not shake hands. Maybe she was waiting for me to put my hand out. Anyway, minor detail, though it did give me pause. My main question for her had to do with advice I had been given years before about working in only one genre or related genres. Since my ideas for stories come in all different genres (though mainly fantasy), I asked her if the advice I had been given was true, and how could I follow it when I don't think in terms of genre first, story second? Well, she disagreed with that assessment. She felt it was good for writers to expand into different genres. For a second novel, as long as it's good, it doesn't matter what genre it's written in, according to her. That led to a different question that I was originally going to ask her, which was, if that's the case, than how does one get an agent, since agents only handle certain genres. She said that my first novel should be most representative of the genre in which I would do the most writing. Then, for the next novel, I could tell my agent, "I'd like to try something a little bit different."

I originally was going to ask her if it were true that poets didn't need agents, but I forgot the question at the time, and so ended our conversation. Instead, I went back to the table where Instrumentality was being sold. The guy selling them, however, was packing up. When I asked him if I could see a copy of the book, however, he took one out for me. He also said that he'd be at the event that night, if I needed more time to decide. He didn't know if Ravi would be there, though (he was), and since my whole purpose was to get him to sign the book for me, I decided to buy it then. I then went back to Ravi and got him to sign it. He also wrote quite a lengthy message on it, since he knew I was a poet, too, basically wishing me luck and hoping to "see you in print."

I had no questions for the editors, so I began heading out. It was at that point that I realized I was no longer carrying my umbrella. I looked in my bag. Not there. I looked under the seats near the row I had sat in (I had sat front and center for the panel, unlike the out-of-the-way places I had sat for my previous classes). Not there. Thinking I might have left it in the bathroom (I went before the panel began), I went there to check. Nothing. I knew that I couldn't go outside without it. What to do? I ended up coming back into the auditorium and looking again. It's a dark umbrella; perhaps I just hadn't seen it.

I had just about given up when, going up the aisle on the righthand side, I saw an umbrella lying across a chair. It was far from where I was sitting, not being among any of the seats near where I had sat, and not even in the same row. In any case, it was my umbrella.

Usdan University Center

While I didn't bite off any plasticware at dinnertime, I did find myself alone--the only one to have a table to himself. Much fewer people ate dinner than had eaten lunch. While waiting for the dinner lines to open (we had a large break between the end of the last panel and dinnertime), I poured myself some tea, letting it cool on the table once I went up to get dinner, since it had almost burned my hands off while transporting it there (they had plastic cups, not styrofoam). I had cold cuts with bread, some tofu stuff, salad, and maybe some other items, as well. I guess Wesleyan is very Asian and health-conscious in their food choices.

Anyway, once I had finished dinner, I debated which table I should join. Since there was about an hour-and-a-half wait between dinnertime and the final event of the evening, it wasn't a question of whether or not I should sit with people at another table, but who I should ask. I finally decided on a table with two guys and two girls, all of whom look to be of college age (though they had looked older from afar). Basically, I filled a gap. There were several college-age students at the conference (and younger?), with the next age group being people in their late thirties/early forties. I saw no one there who looked to be in their late twenties or early thirties, though I might have missed them.

The group I sat with discussed the demerits of Twilight (no plot, vampires "sparkle"), how Twitter should work (not there to tell people about mundane happenings in your life), and other topics. I had a good discussion with the woman sitting next to me about the craft of writing and such. Oh, and to all you Twilight fans out there, I have not read the book or the series--I'm just passing along what I heard. The ones who were criticizing it, however, had read the book, and one of them had seen the movie.

So, onto the last event of the night: The Padraic Colum Event. Still not sure what it means, but all of us went back to the World Music Hall and got to hear Andre Aciman read from his new, still unpublished novel (it will be out on Valentine's Day next year). He said that the book had been unpublished last year when he came to Wesleyan, too.

The book follows a boy and girl who are in between relationships, and the eight days and nights that they spend together. Andre skipped around in his readings from the novel, but I couldn't tell when the skips occurred, and found myself zoning out at times, hypnotized by the words and his delivery. I plan on reading it when it comes it--it sounds very good. Wonder if I should ask for an advance because I'm helping to promote his book ;-) Oh wait, my audience is in single digits. Darn :-(

After the reading, all of the books that had been sold during the conference were out on a table (though I didn't see Matrimony there), right next to a punch bowl, fruit, and some cheese and crackers. I didn't talk much to anyone after the reading, beyond saying, "Excuse me," when I bumped into someone. I looked at Andre's books, but none of them grabbed me as strongly as his soon-to-be-published book had. The one that came the closest was Call Me by Your Name, his only novel for sale (and possibly his only novel). One could also purchase his memoirs and a collection of essays. And, they were all two dollars cheaper than the poetry book I had just bought, and much thicker. But I refrained. I also saw autographed copies of books by authors who had appeared earlier in the week, including some from Amy Bloom. Finally, an author I've heard of...though still haven't read.

What more is there to tell? After I snacked for a little bit, I went back to the parking lot and went home. Unfortunately, the street was one way, which I only discovered upon pulling out of the parking lot. Going the other way would have been so much easier. So, I ended up taking lots of K-turns on dark roads, crossed the border into the next town, pulled into a hotel parking lot to check my map, stopped in the middle of roads with no cars on them to check my map, pulled into yet another parking lot to check my map, got into wrong lanes and had to turn around, went the wrong direction on the right street, and finally, was able to follow my directions to Rte. 9, after which the rest of the ride home was fine, minus the pouring rain I hit upon reaching Hartford. Good thing I put in ten dollars worth of gas; I used up about fifteen.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Passing Of Michael Jackson

In a few days, I will post the rest of my adventure to Wesleyan, but I would be amiss if I did not comment today on the passing of Michael Jackson. Besides him, we lost two other giants recently: Farrah Fawcett, and Ed McMahon. Of the three, though, MJ's loss was the most shocking, and indeed, the only one of the three that I can comment on personally.

Michael Jackson was the first pop star that I listened to on purpose. What that means is that I (or, more likely, my parents) went out and bought his albums, put them on the record player, and would listen to them again and again, rather that come across them on the radio by accident. One of the first albums I ever owned was Bad, followed by a couple of Jackson 5 albums, a Motown Legends album that included the Jackson 5, and finally, Thriller. In addition, one Christmas I received some 45s of his music, including not only his solo work, but some of his work as part of the Jacksons (maybe some from his Jackson 5 days, too). I also own his Moonwalker video (on VHS) and played the video game of the same name on my friend's Sega Genesis.

While I still think that his best work was done with the Jackson 5, I was a fan of "Heal the World" (off of Dangerous) and many of the tracks off of his Thriller and Bad albums. I didn't buy Dangerous, nor did I listen to all of the tracks on it, but from what I've heard, and what happened to his career afterwards, that album can be considered his last good/great album. Then he got weird.

Today, if you go back and listen to the music, or see his many music videos (including the seminal Thriller video), you'll see the reasons he will be missed. He may have been too eccentric for some of us in his later years, but who are we to judge, who never had his talent, who never had the pressures forced upon us that he had forced upon him, and at such a young age? Maybe the talent left him as he got older, or maybe he knew that he could never top what he had done previously--though it should be pointed out that he was planning a comeback tour in London at the time of his death. In any case, as with any artist who dies young, we should be happy that he left us so much of his art, and a blueprint that other artists trying to be as big as he became still try to emulate.

But try as they might, there will only be one Michael Jackson.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Wesleyan Writers Conference One-Day Event, Part One

I woke up early on Thursday morning to drive to the Wesleyan Writers Conference One-Day Event. I brought with me my "man-purse," a black bag I had purchased in Japan, which has a main compartment, two side pockets, a handle that comes undone in order to access the main compartment, and a shoulder strap. In my bag, I carried a folder that included a partial map of Middletown, directions to and from Wesleyan, my emailed itinerary, and a campus map that was printed from the Wesleyan website. In addition, the bag carried two pencils, a pen, an eraser, a hand pencil sharpener, my moleskin notepad, extra tissues, cough drops, and tic tacs in the side pockets; and an umbrella, one copy of Digging Up the Past, a notebook, a camera, and two bottles of flavored water in the main pocket, where they shared space with the folder.

It was a rainy and dreary day, which contributed to stop-and-go action on I-84 W. Surprisingly, once I turned onto I-91 S, traffic was fine.

I got from my house to I-84 to I-91 to Rte. 9 all right, but I turned off of Rte. 9 too soon, and ended up wandering the streets of Middletown until, after turning down Church Street near what appeared to be the center of town, I pulled over in...a church parking lot.

I discovered that somehow, I was now south of Wesleyan, instead of north. Looking at the map right now, I'm not sure how I passed Wesleyan without noticing it, unless I went down some side street not on the map. In any case, I had just passed Union Green, so I realized that the best strategy would be to continue down Church Street and then take a right onto High Street. Soon after following these directions, the campus came into sight.

Upon finding the university, I now came across my second problem: where to park? Somehow, the parking lot I had found so easily on my map, right off of High Street, was nowhere to be seen. All of the one-way streets off of High Street didn't help matters. Finally, I found some groundskeepers and asked one of them where I was supposed to go. He didn't know where the conference was, and when I told him it was being held in the Writer's Conference (Building?), he didn't know where that building was, either. So, I showed him my scaled-down and hard to read campus map. I had highlighted the building I had to go to. He gave me directions to that building, but the only parking I found there was for faculty, and the building itself looked lifeless. I think I looped around again (thanks, one-way streets) before pulling into a parking lot where a woman, probably a teacher, was getting out of her car. I asked her where the Writers Conference was being held. She didn't know. She asked if I had the name of the building. When I told her at the Writers Conference, she asked if I had a name with me. That's when I thought of my itinerary. So, instead of showing her my map, I dug into my bag and found the three pieces of paper that listed that day's events. On there, it said I had to be at the Usdan University Center. Well, she knew where that was, and it wasn't the building I had highlighted on my map. Following her directions, I found the place easily, and with ample parking for visitors.

Usdan University Center

Unfortunately, I missed out on breakfast, since I arrived on the third floor at 8:50, and the first class started at 9 am, in a different building. But, I had eaten breakfast at home, so I really only missed out on having some tea. The woman manning the table on the third floor gave me my packet of stuff and told me where the classes were being held. More importantly, she told me where lunch and dinner would be served.

Sitting on a chair, I went through my materials and found the schedule of events, as well as my name tag (I put that on). I didn't have time to go through all of the materials in detail, so after flipping through everything, I stuffed them back in my folder, placed the folder in the bag I had brought with me, and headed off to my first class, which was held in Room 001 (a lecture hall) in the Public Affairs Center.

Public Affairs Center

My first class was on the novel, being taught by Alexander Chee. He was late. His assistant began class, but he came in soon after. I believe he said he had car trouble that morning.

As one person put it later during lunch, Alex looks like he just woke up and is disorganized, but then he'll come up with such nuggets of good advice. I would emphasize the "looks like" part, for he keeps on task, even if the structure of his lesson plan isn't apparent. It's kind of like listening to Debussy; he is working in meter, but you can't tell it's there.

Anyway, of the three classes that I took (I'm not including the seminars or panels), this one was the most beneficial to me. Of course, if I had gone to the full conference, I would've had five classes on the novel, instead of one. On this particular day, he discussed the climax and ending. Since the ending of the novel I've been working on has been a nightmare (the possibilities are endless, though I may be close to a good ending now), I was relieved to hear him say that writing multiple endings to a novel was "a good exercise" in trying to decide how to end a book. As he said, "You're looking for the surprise that accords." In other words, it must follow what has happened before, and yet a reader shouldn't be able to see it coming from the first page. On the other hand, it must be what the book wants, which is why one should never force an ending onto a book just because one wants that ending.

More practical advice included keeping a timeline of the novel up until the ending, so that one can visualize everything that has happened up to that point. I was thinking of doing an outline so that I knew what happened in which chapter, but this might be even more helpful to the ending. I'll probably do both. Another bit of advice was to keep a list of characters (the main ones, at least) and where they appear in the novel.

Oh, and during the class, I had an idea for the ending of one of the few play ideas that has been bouncing around in my head. Yay moleskin notepad!

My second class, on short stories, was with the very structured, very rule-driven Roxana Robinson, though she mentioned that the class really covered all aspects of fiction. We were supposed to read a story for that class called "The Sock," but like trying to find the other half of a pair of socks, I couldn't find the story in my packet. During the discussion that ensued, I borrowed the story from one of the women sitting in my row. She (and I, for that matter) had sat in the same seats for previous class, too. Hard to read a story among the chatter of others, though. At lunchtime, I found a copy of the story near a board in the dining area, and since coming home, I've been able to read it under quieter circumstances.

I guess the most unique thing about the story is that it broke many of the rules that Roxana had been teaching the class for the previous three days. These rules include using beautiful language (as in language chosen carefully, not purple prose), clear voice (point-of-view), sympathetic characters (not necessarily good, but we can engage with them--though wouldn't that be empathetic more than sympathetic?), conflict (didn't Beckett disprove that with Waiting for Godot?), and change (some short of shift has to come in the story, which I would agree is essential for short stories, and important for novels, too).

Then, because people who had been there all week had writing assignments that carried over from one class to the next, some volunteers read what they had written for that day's assignment. In the past, they had written a dialogue between two people, as well as some other exercises that I can't remember. On that day, they were to have written about one of the characters they had previously written about doing something that he or she loves. The point was to show how language can convey the love a character has for a task, rather than telling the reader, "So-and-so loves doing this." (That just made me think of something. In the novel that I'm writing, two of my characters love playing in the swamp. I should rework those parts so that they convey the joy that they feel, instead of getting all metaphysical about why they like playing there.)

In fact, that was part of the criticism that Roxana, and others, had concerning some of the stories (though the discussion felt like that which takes place in a freshman level English class--many averted eyes, few volunteers). In other words, don't tell me that they love what they're doing, show it through the language. Oftentimes, it will come out as great concentration on the character's part, according to Roxana. Sudden mood changes from chaotic to calm also suggest how much the character loves what they do, as it did in one story read during that class.

Out of all the stories that I heard, several were very good, and one--about a woman caring for a mango tree--was phenomenal. Later, I got to share my praise of that short story with its author.

Usdan University Center (back), as seen from the Public Affairs Center

Next came lunch, back at the Usdan University Center. They had salad, cold cuts, rolls, and cake there, as well as some more unusual fare. I'm still not sure what it was, thought I tried some of it. It looked to be Western Asia fare, but not Indian. Not realizing that I could go up multiple times, or maybe not thinking of going up more than once, I tried to cram everything I wanted to eat onto one small plate-even dessert.

I initially sat alone, but I was joined by several people who knew each other, including the two women who had sat near me at both of my morning classes. They were all from Avon and Simsbury, which might explain why most of them seemed to work in the medical profession. They asked me a few questions, but most of the time, I listened to them. All of them were older than me, though the youngest could have been in her late thirties (since she had kids in high school, however, I would guess that she more likely was in her early forties).

As I was eating my cold cuts (with a fork, not in a bread roll), I heard a crunch. Now, nothing in a piece of roast beef should be crunchy, so I looked at my plastic fork. One of the ends had been bitten off. I guess I had bitten down too hard.

Instead of spitting out the piece of roast beef within my mouth, however, I located where the piece of plastic was within the piece of meat. Unfortunately, sometime between then and when I swallowed the rest of the meat, I must have swallowed the offending plastic. Since I don't have any internal bleeding issues at the moment, I can only assume that it passed out of my system safely.

The rain had let up a little before lunchtime, but now it was pouring outside. Heading back to the Public Affairs Center, I had to find Room 004 for my next class: poetry. Well, that proved difficult. I finally found it around a corner that appeared to end in a room, not another corridor, but the teacher for that class, Ravi Shankar (no, not the musician), was late. Very late. He apologized when he came in, thinking that the class was at 1:30, not 1:15, as it had been on all previous days. In addition to his being late, he also noticed that none of us had the packets that should have been waiting for us in the room. That led to him calling Anne Greene, the director of the conference. Also, he asked for a volunteer to pick up the packets.

While waiting, we discussed "alternate ways to organizing poems." In other words, poems can be organized by meter (pentameter) or stress (iambic, anapest, dactyl). Alternate ways include concrete poems (that look like the objects they're describing), and syllabics. Syllabic poetry organizes poems according to the number of syllables in each line, and can be as complex as rhyming patterns in determining how the poem is written. The most well-known syllabic form of poetry is haiku.

We were about to start an assignment at that point, but then the packets arrived. So, we had volunteers read some of the poems in the packet out loud, while the other ones could be read at our leisure. All of the poems were syllabic. We focused mainly on self-portrait poetry that compares oneself to another object (i.e. "Self-Portrait with Insomnia, Rocks, and Fireflies" by Stephen Cramer and "Self-Portrait as a Seismograph" by Cecily Parks), though we also read "The Thin Man" by Donald Justice and (my personal favorite) "Metaphors" by Sylvia Plath. I have to say, the two self-portrait poems were weird and difficult to understand (the seismograph one more than the other), yet Ravi seemed to agree with all of the assessments that came in from the students for each poem, which is necessary to encourage a discussion on poetry, but also made me wonder what one could say about a poem to which he wouldn't nod his head.

The assignment (which he encouraged one-day students to try, as well) was to write a self-portrait poem "composed with something" (that's what I wrote, but maybe I meant "compared with something"?). And, we were to write it in syllabics. I did write one, though on Friday as opposed to Thursday night. You can see it in my previous blog.

Next time, I'll discuss the panels that I went to, what happened at dinner, and something called the Padraic Colum Evening.

Click here to read Part Two.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Poetry Assignment

The Wesleyan Writers Conference entry promises to be quite long, but I still hope to have it up by Sunday night. In the meantime, here's a poem I did as part of an exercise for one of the classes that I attended. I had to write a self-portrait in which I compared myself to something else, or wrote as another object. To add to the challenge, I had to write in syllabics, which means that each line is dictated by the number of syllables in it, regardless of stress or meter. Haikus are probably the best known example of this.

While I didn't turn this assignment in (one of the benefits and drawbacks of going for only one day), I thought I'd share with you what I came up with just a few minutes ago. As such, I would appreciate any feedback that you can give me, so feel free to comment!

Self-Portrait as a Deer

I was a
Clumsy thing.
Not knowing
Where I stood
When young and
Fragile as
Falling leaves
Now I am
Graceful and
Strong. My long
Antlers touch
The sky with
Truth and light.
My feet scrape
The hard ground.
My body
Has arrows
Poking out
Of soft flesh.
I rest and
Cry for my
One love. My
One comfort.
To me is
Written words
On a page,
Cultures and
Places to
Go. I live
In all of
Them. I am
In Japan,
The U.S.,
And Europe.
I am a
Beast who is
And lovely.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why I Decided to Become a Writer

Since I go to the Wesleyan Writers Conference on Thursday, I decided that, this week, I would answer a question that everyone has of someone pursuing a writing career: Why?

The simple answer is, because I love the English language and I love telling stories. I could add that this is all that I enjoy doing, but that's a lie, and even to amend it by saying it's the only thing I would do for money is not true, either. To say that it's the thing I would enjoy doing the most for money is closer to the truth. The only problem with that answer is that, even if I weren't paid for it, I would still write, and want to be published.

That answer lends itself more to the notion that people who wish to be writers must be egotistical to a degree. After all, how many people have the gumption to believe that other people want to hear what they have to say? And not only other people, but complete strangers of all ages, some of whom haven't been born yet. That takes balls (or ovaries, I guess, if you're a woman). It also takes an ego the size of Texas.

And yet, many writers are humble about their an extent. In my case, I'm learning what my limitations are, but I'm also learning what I'm good at, and if I didn't think I was a good writer, or had the capacity to become one, I would keep a diary for my own pleasure, and nothing else. After all, why waste other people's time in writing books that are so painful to read, labor pains seem like small pokes in comparison? My humility, therefore, is rooted in perspective. I realize that there was a guy called Shakespeare who lived once upon a time and wrote better than any of us ever will, and that there are great writers today (and more to come) who make all of us wannabe writers despair with their genius. On the other hand, I also realize there are writers published today (and in all ages) who should do us all a favor and never write another word as long as they live. With writers, humility also comes from the observance of two rules that can be applied to any profession: 1.) If you're really that good, the work will speak for itself, and 2.) If you have to say how good you are, then you aren't that good.

Another question one might have is, when did I decided to become a writer? The answer to that question is clearer than the previous one. I decided to become a writer during the summer between second and third grade. Since I was eight, that must have been in 1987. How strange to think that it happened the same year that my pet hamster died, indeed during the same season.

Here's what happened: I went to the library, as I often did back then, to check out the maximum 10 books allowed on my library card [this limit was only for children; adults (over age 12?) could check out as many books as they wished]. At that point, I had read most of the more enjoyable books I could find in the children's section (some twice), and wished that there were other stories to read. That's when I realized that I could write those stories that no one else had written.

As I continue on my quest to be published and (vainly) to be recognized for my work, I try to hold on to the reason why I wanted to write in the first place. It wasn't to win literary awards, become famous, or to have my books turned into movies. It was to write the kinds of stories that I wanted to read, but weren't being written. In other words, I wanted to be a writer so that I could write stories for me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Quick Update

Just a quick update: I am officially registered for the one day event at the Wesleyan Writers Conference on June 18th. So, in two weeks time, I should have a entry on that event up on this blog.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wesleyan Writers Conference

Some years ago, I went to a class on how to get published. On the last day of class, the teacher (who also was a writer) gave us a brochure for the Wesleyan Writers Conference for that year. Depending on whether or not we opted to include meals or stay overnight on campus for the conference, the cost of attending ranged from $800 to over $1000.

I didn't go.

Last year, I should have gone, though I had little time between when I returned home from Japan and when the applications were due. I also may not have been able to send in any work for a manuscript consultation, as I had no computer at that time, and no manuscript ready enough to be read by someone else. I could have used my dad's computer, I suppose, but I didn't.

This year, however, I decided to check out when the conference was being held. Well, I inquired a little late this time, too.

Since I couldn't find the original brochure, I thought that the conference was either in July or late June. Turns out that it takes place in the middle of June, with most people applying for it before the end of May. I found out this information while looking it up yesterday.

So, I wrote an email to the woman in charge of the program, and she wrote me back, saying that I could apply to the program over the weekend, if I wished, by calling her home phone number. This was after I already had gone to the post office with the application filled out and the check written, only to find out that the last pickup had occurred a half-hour before I arrived.

Now, I didn't apply for the five days that the program covers, since writing on those days would benefit me more than going to workshops on writing. Also, the main reason to sign up for the whole program was to have a manuscript consultation, and I had missed that deadline for sending one in. Luckily, there was another option: a one-day program that cost $150 and included two meals (but no manuscript consultation), starting at 9 am on June 18th (the last day of the program) and ending at 10 pm. Of course, I didn't have to stay for the whole thing if I didn't want to, but why not?

Since I already had the check written out, and since I thought that one or two days shouldn't make much of a difference, I wrote back to the woman in charge of the conference and told her that I'd rather send my application out by mail, since I already had it prepared. Therefore, today I went to the main post office (different from the post office I went to yesterday) to drop off the letter so that it would go out in the morning tomorrow.

Only one problem: the post office got rid of morning pickup.

So, now my letter will languish in the drop box until 3pm tomorrow before traveling on its merry way to Middletown the following day (I hope). If registrations start filling up quickly for the conference, however, I advised the woman in charge of the conference to email me back, so that I might register by phone. All this work for something that I could have avoided, had I known that I had missed the collection time BEFORE I left my house yesterday afternoon, thereby precluding my filling out a check for it. And then, not having a check ready to be sent out, I could have registered over the phone, and known that I would be going to the one day conference.

Why? Why didn't I just register over the phone and rip up the check? Then I wouldn't have all this stress built up over whether or not a day or two might make a difference in whether I get to go. Well, quite simply, it's because I'm stubborn. Also, since this woman needed me to provide my credit card number and the 3-digit number on the back of my card, I figured that she needed that info to bring into the school tomorrow in order to complete the transaction. If the post office still had early pickup, then mailing it would have taken only a few hours more.

Oh well. I suppose I worry too much about these things.

I'll write more about this one-day conference once I know that I'm going. And, of course, there is a class being offering there on blogging.

Update: Just got an email. A spot will be reserved for me, so sounds like all my worrying is needless. :-)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

In Commemoration of the Tiananmen Square Massacre

Tiananmen Square

As the ladies with their babies
Look outside to Tiananmen Square,
Bullets are sprayed and many do slay
The protesters who are lined up there.
Men with rifles wish to stifle
The resistance that’s building everywhere.
As people look on they see the throng
Being gunned down in Tiananmen Square.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Another Rejection

This will be a short one, but since I got a rejection letter today, I thought I'd share it with all of you. Not that this is my first rejection letter. I've gotten them for every single poem and short story that I've sent out to date. I haven't counted them up, but I'm nowhere near the 100 I feel that I need to receive before my stuff starts getting published. Plus, contests are notoriously hard to win, even though they guarantee that the winning poem/short story will be published.

So, I sent three poems last month to the Al Savard Poetry Contest. The letter I got today announced the poems and authors that won first, second, and third prize, as well as an honorable mention. No, I did not get an honorable mention, either. Since most rejection letters merely say that your work "did not win," I did appreciate the fact that this form letter explained the reasoning behind choosing the winning poems. I hope the poems are good. There's nothing worse than reading something that won an award in a contest you entered, and feeling that your work was ten times better, kind of like most of the poetry I've read in the New Yorker. Maybe my taste in poetry is too classical to love the "deep meanings" of the prose-filled dribble that invest many of the poems in that magazine. Not that I haven't read poems that are good, or even astounding, in there. But, with a year's subscription from several years ago that I'm still reading (got three months or so to go!), I've only come across two poems that moved me, and maybe a handful more (by a Nobel Prize-winning poet, no less) that I enjoyed reading. Then again, that magazine no longer supports unpublished writers: all of the stories and poems in that collection are from published figures looking to promote their latest works.

The most frustrating thing, perhaps, is that contests prove nothing by the losers. In some cases, it proves nothing by the winners, either. I mean, books that win the Pulitzer Prize are usually good, but great books are great regardless of what prizes they don't win, and awful books are awful regardless of prizes they do win. So my not winning these contests only means that the judge liked other poems better than mine--and in poetry, that can be a very subjective thing.

I still have two more contests to hear from, so maybe I'll at least get an honorable mention for one of them. All I can do is continue to write and submit, write and submit.