visitors’ contributions

the process of getting published or why is my head hurting so much?

Mary Ellen Lives
Mary Ellen Lives

It’s an old joke: a man tries to cure his headache by banging his head against the wall. This is the life of a fiction writer trying to get published. I can’t speak for non-fiction as I don’t write it, except for now, but there are hordes of fiction writers out there. Some are like the gentleman who said he creates stories in his mind every day but doesn’t write them down. Some day he will. At that moment he will join the rest of us in the ocean called “sending it out.” We are like a school of fish, friendly little fish, but fish that are all swimming in the same direction. For this gentleman I feel I should give a fair idea of what it’s like to get a piece of fiction published.

Let’s take a hypothetical writer who for this piece I will call, me. I write a short story one day and immediately see it as a hit. It’s raw and needs help, but I know it has the makings of brilliance. I rewrite it a couple times. It’s getting better; I think it’s almost there. I bring it to my writing group. They love it, but have a few suggestions. I take home their copious revisions for review. Some I like, some I don’t agree with, and so begins another round of rewriting. I look for repeated, unnecessary words. I change things around. I let it sit for a week or two and look at it again. Rewrite it again. It’s damn near perfect.

Now I start to look for appropriate venues to send it to, both online and in print. I read, and read, and read, and there it is—the perfect literary magazine. In fact that’s its name, The Perfect Literary Magazine. I follow all the guidelines and send it off. It will take four to six months to hear back from the PLM but they don’t ask for exclusivity so I keep reading and looking for places to send it. Some reject me in no time at all. It takes longer for others. Some kind editors tell me why they are rejecting it, maybe even make suggestions. Most do not.

In the meantime, I begin to rewrite it some more. I rewrite the beginning, change the ending. Now I’m unhappy because I sent it to PLM way too early and it is a much better story now. Sure enough, six months down the road The Perfect Literary Magazine sends me an email: “Dear Me, We read your story with great interest . . . blah, blah, blah.”

I am crestfallen. The last rewrite was so much better. Why did I send it off so soon? I think about moving it from my short story folder to the works in progress folder, otherwise known as the never-to-be-seen-again folder. I think about drinking in the afternoon.

But wait—I have been sending it out all this while. I have forgotten how many places I have sent it due to the fact that I can’t stand to look at my submissions log for fear of day-long depression. One was a magazine that asked for my best work. In fact that’s its name: Send Us Your Best Work.

One day I open my email and see that there is a message from Send Us Your Best Work. I moan. Oh no, another rejection. But this time the first word in the email is “Congratulations!” They love it! They want to publish it in the next issue! They have only a few, minor, suggestions.

I am ecstatic, of course, but I wonder—why does my head hurt so much?

 

covered dishes

by Traci Barr

It is said that true Southern hospitality
begins in the kitchen,
where you can find the makings
of a covered dish
or a cast iron skillet filled with corn pone
or a heaping of poke sallet,
poisonous until cooked,
Geechee red peas, sweet tea,
barbecue and Frogmore stew, too;
a little okra or gumbo,
some grits for good measure –
perhaps for a family picnic or a church social,
attended by true Southern gentlemen
and their antebellum lady guests.
 
Is there enough for everyone at mealtime?
Of course there is…
this is the South,
a place that stands apart
more than any other in America,
a place of moonlight and magnolias and manners;
a place of live oaks and Spanish moss;
a place with a history of plantations, Textile League baseball,
bo weevils, King Cotton and cotton mills,
buildings where work was done that mattered to folks;
buildings where cloth was once cranked out by the country mile;
buildings that now provide trendy, loft-style living
for the presumably trendy newcomers
who can afford to occupy them.
 
I am an outsider and take an emic approach to the South itself.
From the many fields of bletted, landrace Carolina Gold;
to the Low Country, flavored with a little Gullah terroir;
to the Upstate’s peach orchards, all sticky and sweet;
the stories of the South are told in its food.
I would go so far as to say that Southern cooking
is the mother cuisine of this country.
But, as I sip that last drop of savory potlikker
left behind in a vessel of braised collard greens,
I sometimes wonder what really goes on down here,
below the Mason-Dixon.
 
Because, while you are taking a bite,
dainty as it is,
of that genteel pimento cheese spread,
which I have spent time making just for you,
you are thanking me and saying,
in the very same breath,
 
“Bless your heart.”
 
And I am not quite sure y’all
are necessarily wishing me well
when you say that to me.

 

verna

by Traci Barr

My grandmother, Verna,
was a true Southern belle,
worried what the neighbors would think,
exquisitely beautiful,
delicate, fragile, willful, vain.
 
My Lord, she had cotillions and corsages,
the vapors, gentleman callers,
the whole damn archetypal nine yards.
 
I imagine she bought her groceries
at the local Piggly Wiggly.
There wasn’t a Whole Foods to shop in –
not back then.
 
When I was little,
I called her long distance every Sunday,
just to hear her sweet Southern drawl.
I had a long list of favorite words
that I would ask her to repeat.
And then I, a budding cook, would beg her to tell me,
for probably the hundredth time,
the story of how hushpuppies got their name.
“Hush, puppy,” she would say, over and over again,
as she described how those little balls of fried cornmeal
were tossed to quell the yapping of hungry Confederate dogs.
 
Ever the paragon of Southern manners,
she always patiently obliged me.
 
Grandma often drank too much
and during the summertime,
when I would visit her in Kentucky,
a universe away from my home at the Jersey shore,
she would creep into the guest room at night where I slept,
wake me and tell me
I was the most beautiful little girl
in the whole wide world,
stroking my hair and slurring her words.
 
Of course,
because she was drunk,
and believing I was, in fact, the ugliest little girl
in the whole wide world,
I did not buy it for a single minute –
the evidence was so distinctly in my favor.
 
Grandma was very radiant and a touch crazy
and her vanity eventually got the best of her.
She faded and slipped further and further away,
refusing to allow even me, her favorite, to see her
when she became completely disfigured by illness.
But in my mind she remained
a true Southern belle to the very end.
 

call of the wild rose

by Nan Lundeen

Rose by Ron DeKett
Rose by Ron DeKett

Inspiration or perspiration? Perfection or wild and free?

Thomas Edison’s quote that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration is good news for those of us who slog away day after day hoping to unearth gems of inspiration. I’d venture to guess that most poetry and prose writers know that if you want to be a writer you can’t wait for lightning to strike. No, you have to sit down and actually write.

We also know that once we’ve ridden the waves of creative juices and produced a manuscript, even more perspiration is required to edit, rewrite, and polish. But how much to edit, rewrite, and polish? When is it done? I’ve heard writers say when their books were published, they felt relieved because they could stop rewriting.

The other day, my husband I and went to a flower show. There we saw the most perfect white rose in the entire universe! No, really! It was a Mozart symphony all by itself, every petal harmonious with the others. Homogenous perfection, it stood in a glass vase bedecked by a blue ribbon.

Later that day as I remembered the perfect white rose, a wild rose memory washed over me, a childhood memory of pink wild roses tumbling down the shoulders of Iowa gravel roads, perfect in their disarray. A few details, a metaphor, and a simile gave me a poem. Then the pruning began. But not a whole lot. As much as the perfect rose stirs my heart, the wild roses stir my soul. I can breathe near them; the perfect rose makes me nearly hold my breath.

How much do you strive for perfection as you write? As you edit, rewrite, and polish?

At a writing workshop I heard this advice: there’s a time to expand your work and a time to tighten. Sort of like a bellows. Can you visualize them—those contraptions with handles that breathe air onto a fire? Sometimes writing may need a breath of air. Even during editing, rewriting, and polishing, it isn’t always good to tighten, tighten, tighten. A manuscript might need more elucidation, more flights of fancy.

Robert Frost describes beautifully his Faraway Meadow’s anticipated return to wildness after it has been mowed for the last time ever in his poem “The Last Mowing.” He opens the poem by telling us “the talk at the farmhouse” is that “the meadow is finished with men.” He continues to say, “Then now is the chance for the flowers/That can’t stand mowers and plowers.”

 

The meadow is done with the tame.
The place of the moment is ours
For you, O tumultuous flowers,
To go to waste and go wild in,
All shapes and colors of flowers,
I needn’t call you by name.
 

 What do you prefer—perfection or wild and free? There is a time, I think, to let our words tumble wantonly down the shoulders of roadsides.

 

The author is grateful to the South Carolina Writers Workshop for first publishing this column in the Quill October 2012.

my so-called crazy life

by Traci Barr

What is life like when you have mental illness?

Now, there’s a question.

What is life like when you’ve had mental illness longer than most of the people around you have even been alive?

What is life like when you are teased as a teenager for being crazy? Is there anything possibly worse when you are a desperately confused, 16-year-old girl who is scared she’s losing her mind? I’m not sure.

Can you picture reaching levels of depression so deep you don’t have the energy to even cry? Can you imagine achieving a state of mania so high you don’t sleep for days and end up having hallucinations and seizures as a result?

I started my struggle with my bipolar diagnosis 36 years ago – when I was 14 years old. So, I can most definitely imagine these things, because I have experienced all of them.

I always have so many questions, like:

How do I think about a life that has been filled with dozens, maybe hundreds, of different medications, doctors, therapists, nurses, hospitalizations, shock treatments, meltdowns and breakdowns?

How do I try, every day, to not be terrified by the certainty that I will die alone? What do I do with the unbearable grief I feel for never having a child? How do I, at the same time, reconcile my grief with the outright gratitude I have for never actually becoming someone’s crazy mom?

Why do I sometimes behave in ways I truly cannot understand? Why do I sometimes have anxiety that is so paralyzing my own breathing feels like a threat to me?

How do I even begin to explain the feeling of extreme worthlessness I have for myself? It is very difficult to describe such a feeling. It’s as if we should all get a new word for worthlessness – and for extreme.

What is life like when you feel no one understands you for even one single second?

What words should I use to describe the relentless sadness I have that never really seems to leave me? Isn’t it logical to think that suicide would eventually feel to me like a twisted, final, ironic act of profound self-love?

Can you understand wanting to be euthanized like a dog?

How do I consider my own serious, but obviously failed, suicide attempt? What do I do with the knowledge that my suicide attempt landed me in jail, but left me with absolutely no memory of it?

Can you appreciate the fact that most mental health problems, while sometimes manageable, are not preventable…and not curable? Haven’t we all finally realized that it’s possible to help prevent so many other chronic diseases, simply by eating healthy foods?

Can you imagine my confusion over why most health insurance companies pay the costs associated with those preventable diseases, but why many of them won’t cover one thin dime of the costs associated with mental health care?

Can you feel my anger about the countless people who are desperate for help but cannot get it? Can you believe that in 2011, according to the Coroner’s Office, 75 people died in Greenville County as a result of suicide? How does that number compare to the 34 homicides or the 57 traffic fatalities in that same year? Do the math.

Do you know that one in four people has a diagnosable mental disorder and that mental illness is the number one cause of disability in the world, resulting in trillions of dollars of lost worker productivity around the globe?

Don’t you think that if businesses and other institutions showed leadership regarding the mental health concerns of their employees, many workplace tragedies would absolutely be avoided?

Don’t you think that it would simply be stone-cold good business for companies to start getting really real on the issue of the mental health of their employees and other stakeholders?

I sure do.

So, what is it like to have all these questions about life with mental illness?

Well, it can just about drive a person…crazy.

And, when you are bipolar like me, it can be quite beautiful, all at the same time.

 

(An edited (for length) version of this essay was previously published in the July 12, 2013 edition of the Greenville Journal.)

writing credible dialogue – enjoy m.e. corey brown’s guest blog

I hear voices in my head.

Really, all the time. They have very distinct accents and vocabulary, and each has a different tone, melodic or husky, a unique style, slow and confident or abrupt and nervous. Each voice changes very slightly depending upon which of the other voices it is speaking with at the time.

That’s right. The voices in my head speak to each other, not to me. That would just be silly.

It is a very rare voice which does not change depending on its audience. Most do. When speaking to a lover, a rival, a mentor or a sibling, don’t our tones and vocabulary differ a bit? Don’t we tense our consonants around some people, while relaxing our vowels around others? We even express ourselves differently based upon the age of our audience.

Writing dialogue is an exercise in sociology, maybe even a psychological experiment. We as authors must know not only how our character feels about a topic, but also how he feels about the person he is conversing with about the topic. How much can any character truly reveal about her opinion in this situation? Has an opinion even really been solidified?

The voices in my head are fantastic companions, with a wide range of personalities. I exist to place them in situations which are beyond their comfort zones, and among people who test their beliefs and understanding of their worlds, so that they come to know their own true selves to the extent that it is ever possible to do so. And perhaps as I am doing that, I am learning something about my own voice as well.

~Michelle

ME Corey Brown is the author of the fantasy novel Champion of the Moon Glories available on Amazon.com. www.moonglories.com

 

after reading annie dillard

by J.D.

Put no claim on the holy,

For we are as vulnerable as the field mice

Playing among the tall grasses

Hiding beneath the strawberry vines

For God roars in with the morning,

Spilling the new day’s pain over his shoulder

And all we can do

Is all we have ever done.

Open ourselves to the light

When it comes;

Let light enter us

Until we become the Flame

the Burning Bush

dance of the swallowtails

yellow swallowtail by Ron DeKett
yellow swallowtail by Ron DeKett

for Ron

August 26, 2012

 You stand on Lake Placid’s shore
viewfinder framing
clear water revealing
fish just hanging out,
four ducks sailing into what was nothing like
a South Carolina August afternoon
because the sun kisses gentle
while breeze lays ripples on wet
like your fingers ruffling my hair at night
when we’re falling asleep;
viewfinder framing
swallowtails—yellow wings flirting with currents,
they dance
circle
bob
tack
do-si-do
to a sound I am sure
means
peace.
…Nan Lundeen

 

would you write even if it were illegal? enjoy pat jobe’s guest blog

by: Pat Jobe

The critical blessing to my writing life came at 10 years old. In fourth grade we had a special teacher for writing. Her name was Mrs. Burwell. She stood in front of the whole class and pointed a bony finger and said, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but Pat Jobe’s gonna be a writer.” My parents got me a typewriter for Christmas that year and I started my first novel in the sixth grade.

Thomas Merton once admitted being afraid of writing, that sometimes he would force himself to work in the garden or go for walks, anything, to keep himself from writing. He considered it an addiction.

John Gardner once quoted Wilt Chamberlain as saying he would play basketball even if it were illegal. Gardner added, “Novelists are worse than that.”

Alistair Cooke died the week his last newspaper column ran.

Kurt Vonnegut said he wrote because, “I can do nothing about the chaos in the world around me, but I can reduce to perfect order this eight and a half by eleven sheet of paper.”

By the next click on the calendar, I will have been writing for 50 years. I published my own newspaper in high school, wrote for the local paper, and continued the trek in college. I’ve written two published novels, although I had to publish the second myself and it still needs typos corrected at the cost of another 200 bucks. I’m writing at this moment in the middle of the afternoon after eating ice cream and fighting the opportunity to take a nap. Any 60-year-old man who would rather write than take a nap is addicted to writing.

Books, one or two unperformed plays, hundreds of newspaper columns and sermons, and this morning I put a letter to a dear auntie in the mail with a stamp on it. Yes! People still do that.

I write primarily on a keyboard looking at a computer screen. God bless spell-check. My used iMac even knew when I spelled Alistair Cooke’s name wrong. But I also keep a minimum of two pens in one pocket and now have two notebooks, small of course, in the other. I scratch haikus on napkins and paper place mats. I copy down quotes obsessively. I love a good quote.

Emerson said, “I hate quotes. Tell me what you know.” I even love that one. I have a love-hate relationship with other writers. Some are so cussed good that I could just kill them. Tom Robbins is an obvious example. Here’s a taste of his chops, “The unhappy person resents it when you try to cheer him up, because that means he has to stop dwelling on himself and start paying attention to the universe. Unhappiness is the ultimate form of self-indulgence. When you’re unhappy, you get to pay a lot of attention to yourself. You get to take yourself oh so very seriously.”

Shirley Rawley taught writing at High Point College. I adored every step she placed upon the earth. She encouraged me with raw, melted love poured over like a chocolate sundae. But Elizabeth Harris was also a charm. My junior year in high school she stopped by my desk and groused, “You’re probably gonna make some money off your writing. You might wanna learn to spell.”

I nevah did.

 

 

the sign says

by mary ellen lives

Musing in the Park by Ron DeKett
Musing in the Park by Ron DeKett
Playing in or around
The river
Is strongly
Discouraged
 
It is not forbidden
It is not illegal
You will not be punished
 
The sign is not my mother
Spreading guilt
Like overflowing water
Brown with silt
 
It is not my father
A boulder
Beneath the white water
Chastising
 
The sign is calm
The sign is quiet
And only
Slightly
Discouraging

 

odd number

by chris thackston

Poet in the Park by Ron DeKett
Poet in the Park by Ron DeKett
Yes, I am the odd number,
It is I, the lonely worm,
Feeling trapped in a flock of birds
They fly through the trees,
Evil eyes staring at me.
 
Yes, I am the odd number,
Alone and rare as a black rose,
The Daisies that surround me,
Are full of color and light,
My darkness, a shadow of life.

 

 

dam

by k.g. mcabee

River in the Park by Ron DeKett
River in the Park by Ron DeKett
Back in the day
The mills dammed the rivers,
Damning them to stone cages,
Funneling their freedom
Into bolts of cotton and linen and denim.
Now we free the rivers
From their rocky chains.
But are they happier?
Or do they miss
Their occupation, clothing the world,
Hiding its nakedness
Under the colors of the stars:
Red giant, blue dwarf, black hole?