February – Penned: Interviews with Writers

The other day, my creative writing professor told me that “we were made to tell stories.” That’s the basis of human nature, to share their experiences, to use their voices. Every story is unique — each one has its own distinct voice and purpose.

As writers, we excel at storytelling. It’s in our blood, intertwined into our DNA. We all do it differently; that’s why this month’s interviews focus on individual storytelling techniques.

The February theme: How to begin a story/poem.

 

Tyler Barton:

Find a voice and follow its energy. I find it almost impossible to start with an idea (for example: irony as a defense mechanism can have serious consequences for human connection) and then try write a story. However, if I sit down to write and listen for the voice of a caustic, sarcastic, washed-up comic, whose loneliness seeps hilariously through her speech, I’m much more likely to get a draft started, maybe even completed. Basically: don’t start with what you want to say, but who you want to watch, know, and hear speak.

Leanne Gregory:

To me, the method that works when beginning a story or poem is to become that story or poem. By that I mean, act it out. Whether out loud, or inside your head, find someplace you can be alone and let yourself meditate on what you want the story to say. What the characters look like, and act like. The sounds, smells, tastes, and feel of your world. Imagine it all. Make sure to have a recorder or notebook nearby to record what you discover as well.

Jamie Yourdon:

Every story teaches the reader how to read it. It begins: “I am happy,” or “I am sad.” I am happy and sad. I am the first, second, or third person. I’m an anecdote. I’m argot. I am not to be trusted. I am in conversation with all the stories that came before me, the ones you read in college or huddled under the covers. I am a new old story and you are your new old self—you, the reader. We are bound by this sentence, and the next, and the next. So let’s begin.

Zane Ross:

Any of my work, my stories or my poems, always start with a single idea. I could be sitting at my desk eating lunch and then a lyric will pop into my head or a vaguely defined premise like “techno wizards from Mars.” Although that example sounds completely awful that’s kind of how it is. Even the worst ideas can turn into great ones. So I will pull out my laptop and start typing up a story based on that small thing, not always intending on it being good. The first thing I write isn’t meant to be read by others, but it is meant to establish my characters and my world for me. When you first start you don’t know either of them. You haven’t been to this world or you haven’t met these characters yet. That short story, just for me, is how I understand what they are about.

Ben Tanzer:

It begins with an idea. Or maybe it starts with a theme, family, small towns, marriage. You muse on that theme. You wait for associations. Incidents from your childhood. A story a friend told you. A dream or fantasy. You make a list of these associations. You have associations with the associations. You write them down. The list gets messy. You stare at the list, certain ideas start to take form and leap from the page. You grab hold of them. You put pen to paper. You’ve begun.

 

I’d like to thank the writers who shared with us in this month’s Penned! I hope these responses help with putting your pen to some paper. (Don’t forget, Sea Salt submissions are open!)

See ya next month!

 

Interviewees:

Tyler Barton is a cofounder of FEAR NO LIT and an intern for Sundress Publications. His stories have been published in Midwestern Gothic, Split Lip Mag, Hobart, and NANO Fiction. Find him at tsbarton.com. Follow him @goftyler.

Leanne Gregory is a student at the University of the Cumberlands. She has been writing since the sixth grade, and she was a member of her high school’s writing club for three years. She loves to write in the fictional genre of fantasy, specifically medieval settings, but has recently been trying to expand her writings into the realm of science fiction, as well.

Jamie Yourdon, a freelance editor and technical expert, received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. His short fiction has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Underneath the Juniper Tree, and Chicago Literati, and he has contributed essays and interviews to Booktrib. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Froelich’s Ladder (Forest Avenue, 2016) is his debut novel. He has been writing for 27 years, always and only literary fiction.

Zane Ross is a junior at University of the Cumberlands and an English major with an emphasis in Creative Writing and a minor in Journalism. He started writing when he was young, writing his own Goosebumps-like stories in 5th grade. He played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in high school, so he contributes a lot of his practice in writing to those nerdtastic years. He is a fiction writer by trade and focuses mainly on the genres of Fantasy, Mystery and Horror. His writing is very focused on entertaining readers. He also write for the UC Patriot, his university’s school newspaper.

Ben Tanzer is the author of the  book Be Cool – a memoir (sort of), among others. He also oversees the lifestyle empire This Blog Will Change Your Life and frequently speaks on the topics of messaging, framing, social media, blogging, fiction, essay writing and independent publishing. He has been writing for 18 years, a mix of fiction and personal essay.

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January: Poetry Picks & Prompts

Rebecca Featured

For the new year, I’ve decided to change my focus for this column. I’ve decided to narrow my scope, and delve more deeply into one literary magazine each month; I want to explore the content that these magazines publish, but even more than that I want to talk about what they stand for, their mission, and the contributions they are making as a whole to the world of poetry publishing. Lit mags – and the often unpaid, hardworking editorial staff that keep them running – play a huge role in determining the future of contemporary poetry, and are the loud voices that help keep poetry alive and relevant in America and beyond. I want to pay homage to that effort, in this small way, and to help connect our readership with the vast network of literary magazines around the world.

This month, I’m featuring Duende, the literary magazine run by Goddard College’s BFA program. I love lit mags that are run by undergraduate students because the staff is always changing, which allows the magazine to change and make itself new with each turnover of the academic year. The magazine is named after Fredrico Garcia Lorca’s Theory and Play of the Duende – in the essay Lorca argues not for a poetry of angels or muses, but for one that comes from the soles of the feet, from the earth, from mortality and survival and the looming figure of death. The editorial staff describe their preferences in beautiful abstraction: “Duende tastes good on the tongue and caresses the ear. Duende seeks authenticity & soulfulness, earthiness & expressiveness, a chill up the spine. It encompasses darkness and intensity; elicits sorrow and joy; wrests a response from the body.” Duende promises earthy, real, expressive writing and that is precisely what the magazine provides, with both novice and experienced contributors and a submission policy that encourages those often ignored by “literary gatekeepers;” the “true beauty and diversity of the U.S. literary ecosystem … from writers and artists who are queer, of color, differently abled, immigrant, working class, youth, elder…” to put their work up for the editor’s consideration.

Without further ado, two poems from Duende, and a prompt inspired by the magazine’s namesake:

Four Poems from CA Conrad

Veteran experimental poet C.A. Conrad hit me over the head again with his sharp, evocative lines in these poems from his collection Width of a Witch. You can see what I mean most clearly in Pluto.4, which I’ve transcribed below (pardon the poor formatting here — see the poem as Conrad meant it on Duende‘s site):

we win from time to time
abandoned above adaptable positions of the losing
we risk everything in thinking we can navigate maverick of the green carry a
bottle of wine into the
pumpkin patch looking
for a new way to
angle the old songs
sell me a ticket to
your dance please
believe in the strength of
poetry a little stone in the moth
helps balance her on my breath

Two Poems from Caitlin Cundiff

Caitlin Cundiff’s first poem, “A Private Viewing,” struck me from the first stanza. She writes about her grandmother’s body beautifully, with a kind of authenticity and imagination that reads like a daydream, but the kind that bowls you over, that doesn’t pass easily from the brain. The first stanza is below; I hope it leads you, as it did me, into the rest of this beautiful poem.

I.

The flowerbeds by the front door were Ima’s only children.
She crushed up her bones with a mortar and pestle
to put in the soil as if she expected her kneecaps
to bloom again.

 

Prompt

Write a poem from the soles of your feet. Write from the center of the earth. In short, write a duende poem. Lorca talks about tango and bull-fighting in his essay about this form of poetics – what is your bullfight? Your tango? Write about a moment charged with energy, fear, lust, the raw feeling of being alive. Then, if you are feeling inspired, try to write the same poem again from Lorca’s other modalities – the muse and the angel.

December – Penned: Interviews with Writers

Our Encounters with Nature issue has finally been released! If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can do so here. Each of the editors has worked hard combing through submissions, perfecting the mechanics of each piece, and stringing together the parts of the whole.

Readers and submitters don’t normally get the chance to hear from the shadowy figures who construct the lit mag. So, this month, I thought it would be nice to give the readers a glimpse of the women behind the mask and to give The Drowning Gull’s own some well-deserved recognition.

The December theme: A writer who inspires you.

Shonavee:

I know there will be some serious eye rolls when I say this, but the writer who inspires me more than anyone is Stephen King. I first discovered King when I was 11 and borrowed Misery from the school library. The thing that I love most about Stephen King, is his fearlessness and commitment. He’s written what he knows, which is unquestionably horror, but he has never limited himself to that. Hearts in Atlantis was an artistic masterpiece, his short stories are as satisfying as his novels, and his fantasy was a hit or a major miss depending on who you talk to. No matter what, he will always write the story he believes in and he will sit down every day to do it. Fearless. Committed. Everything a writer should aim to be.

Tiegan:

Anyone who follows me on social media would know that my favourite writer would have to be Brenda Shaughnessy, a poet living in Verona, New Jersey. She’s the author of ‘Interior with Sudden Joy,’ ‘Human Dark With Sugar,’ ‘Our Andromeda’, and my favourite of favourites, ‘So Much Synth’. I first came across Brenda when I searched online for poetry books that could begin my collection of poetry. (I was predominantly a fiction reader, back then, but wrote quite a bit of poetry; I wanted to learn what all the popular contemporary poets were up to so I could master it.) “Our Andromeda” popped up on Google, and it piqued my interest, so I got it. That made me fall in love with Brenda’s poetry– and consequently, purchase her earlier collections and watch out for forthcoming ones. I loved– LOVE– the sounds her words create when strung together into eloquent sentences. Some of the sentences in particular became like mantras I memorised for personal use (self-empowerment, etc). Brenda’s poems are empowering, inspiring, enlightening, heartbreaking… All those emotion-related adjectives that, when used by an author’s readers to describe their work, mean the poems did exactly what they were meant to do.

Rebecca:

It’s hard to pick one writer that inspires me, but I am struck over and over again by Italo Calvino’s work each time I read him. He has no formula for his novels — each is unique, a world unto its own, and each book reads completely differently. I love that he gives himself so much room to experiment with form and structure, and I hope to emulate that kind of whimsical dedication to experimentation in my own work. I love how he questions and redefines what a novel can be, and I love the magic that is present in each of his stories. He really gives himself room to play.

Katie:

Mark Z. Danielewski is my idol. One day, I plan to write a novel as trippy and awesome as his House of Leaves. His words mimic his story; physically and emotionally, he captures the essence of the novel in the mere placement of letters. I love how he does not adhere to structural standards (his words spiral and even transcend the page boundary) and, not only does he write outside of the box, he decimates that box completely. There are so many layers and secret messages in his novel. One can dig and dig and dig, always finding a new chunk of gold on which to latch. That’s the beauty of it: his tale is never-ending. In a sense, its layers make it immortal. Danielewski follows his heart, no mater the backlash or the consequence — that’s what I love about him. I want to be his level of fearless.

November – Penned: Interviews with Writers

In anticipation for the release of our second issue in December, for this month’s Penned, I interviewed a handful of well-known, established authors. Each of these authors have sold and written numerous novels, each of them using their talent to create an unforgettable and awe-filled atmosphere.

The question this month corroborates with the second issue’s theme, Encounters with Nature. This is what I asked these talented writers: “The Drowning Gull’s forthcoming issue strongly correlates with a writer’s or artist’s sense of place. How important is this sense of place to you in your own writing?”

 

Allan Frewin Jones:

On the page, I endlessly return to places I know – midsummer beaches – streets of childhood games – mountains seen on holiday – a park where the dog ran unleashed – a stone knife in a museum – an old house on a hill – a leaf-heavy Autumn tree – a window overlooking a garden – textures – smells – curves and lines and colours – these keep drawing me back and infiltrating my writing. Sometimes I am asked or inspired to create other worlds – but those beaches, those mountains, those windows, those gardens always come creeping in.

Ruth Ware:

Sense of place is enormously important to me in writing, and the initial seed of a book often comes from a place I’ve visited, or a sense of atmosphere stored away from long ago. People often talk about books being character led, but setting is to me almost as important – characters react very differently to the same events taking place in a sunny meadow or snowy midnight woods, and a book without a vivid setting is for me like a play taking place on an empty stage – it can still be wonderful, but we’re left wondering how much more wonderful might it have been with a memorable backdrop?

Pippa Goodhart:

When I wrote my first novel, A Dog Called Flow, over twenty years ago I knew the house and valley that the story was set in very well.  They are real.  That particular landscape plays its part in the story.  But so, even more so, does the almost Arctic mountain and river landscape in Finding Fortune.  In that story, Ida travels from Britain to Canada, across Canada, and then the perilous and dramatic journey into inhospitable wilderness of the Klondike as they search for gold.  And yet I’ve never done a step of that journey in real life; only in my imagination.  Different again are picture books such as forthcoming My Very Own Space where the story happens on a blank canvas, so with no landscape at all.  Every story has its own needs.

Jolina Petersheim:

When I was fourteen, our family was forced to leave our home my father had built, along with 365 acres, and I mourned that land more than the dwelling. This predilection permeates every aspect of my writing, and I believe a sense of place is a character, which sets the tone for the story and scenes. Every one of my novels has a rural setting, and I cannot imagine ever setting a story in a city, for it is the land that speaks to me: hardwood trees, freshwater springs, and rolling hills. Such beauty–and peace–is found here.

Jadie Jones:

A sense of place is one of the most important elements of a story, especially in regard to how characters relates to their surroundings. I see setting as the focusing lens of the story. Setting should impact a scene in a 360 degree sense. Example: if a character is sharing or receiving personal news in a crowded, noisy bar, how would he/she speak? What would make him/her hesitate or break up the conversation? If they were to receive/give the same news in a quiet, private setting, how would the feel of it change? The setting acts as a “silent” character.

Ernest Hebert:

I live in two places, the material world and a spirit realm in my head and heart. When they are in sync my life feels complete, and I am happy, which is why I choose to reside in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire. I’ve collected images and stories of my region and its people in my mind and created the fictional town of Darby. Maybe its divine inspiration, or maybe only shit luck, but somehow Darby images transubstantiated into seven novels. I am grateful.

George Ella Lyon:

PLACE

I been placed

I been displaced

replaced

deplaced

& misplaced.

 

I been overplaced

underplaced

inplaced

& outplaced.

 

I been otherplaced

 

zigplaced

                            zagplaced

rigplaced

                            ragplaced

can’t-get-your-tongue-around-

the-letters-and-the-sound placed.

 

from depraved place

to you’ve-got-it-made place

 

from it’s-not-your-place-to

shout-in-my-face too

 

laced & maced

graced & disgraced

fail-placed

high-aced

 

I been mapped

Cumberland-Gapped

energy-sapped

& crap-zapped

 

I been first-placed

last-placed

inner looped

& outer-spaced

 

How come I’m still                                                                                                     missing?

 

Thank you for reading this month’s Penned. Be sure to check out some of the great novels written by the interviewees. The deadline for this themed issue is the end of this month, I hope to see your work! Happy writing!

 

 

Interviewees:

Allan Frewin Jones was born in London on the 30th April 1954 : Walpurgisnacht – “the most evil night of the year!!” When a teacher read Alan Garner’s THE WIERDSTONE OF BRISINGAMEN to his primary school class, he was inspired to write – and hasn’t stopped since. Considered to be “good” at art. Also enjoys listening to and making music. Various clerical jobs followed school, to support writing, amateur music-making and other artistic habits. Wrote several fantasy books when they weren’t in favour with publishers. Went to Middlesex Poly for a Diploma of Higher Education, majoring in Fine Art. Started sending books off to publishers/literary agents. Was taken up by an Agent. Listened to advice and criticism. Re-wrote books. Re-presented books. Got his first book published in 1987. Went freelance as a writer November 1992. About 100 books published to date under several different names. Lives in Bexleyheath, KENT, England, with his wife, Claudia (German) and a cat called Lulu (English).

Ruth Ware grew up in Lewes, in Sussex and studied at Manchester University, before settling in North London. She has worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language and a press officer. Her début thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood and the follow-up The Woman in Cabin 10 were both Sunday Times top ten bestsellers in the UK, and New York Times top ten bestsellers in the US.  She is currently working hard on book three. Follow her on twitter at @ruthwarewriterFind her on facebook as Ruth Ware Writer.

Pippa Goodhart has been writing children’s books for twenty-five years, with over a hundred books published.  Those books include prize-winning picture book You Choose, and the Winnie the Witch story books which she writes under the name of Laura Owen.  She lives near Cambridge, and divides work time between writing, working with children in schools, and teaching and critiquing those wanting to write for children.

Jolina Petersheim is the bestselling author of The Alliance, The Midwife and The Outcast, which Library Journal called “outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. Her writing has been featured in venues as varied as radio programs, nonfiction books, and numerous online and print publications such as Reader’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, and Today’s Christian Woman. Jolina and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their young daughters.

Georgia native Jadie Jones first began working for a horse farm at twelve years old, her love of horses matched only by her love of books. She went on to acquire a B.A. in equine business management, and worked for competitive horse farms along the east coast. The need to write followed wherever she went. She now lives with her family in Oregon’s Rogue River Valley. When she’s not working on a new project, she is either in the saddle or exploring the great outdoors with her children.

Ernest Hebert is  the author of eleven novels, and is best known for the Darby series, seven novels written between 1979 and 2014, about modern life in a fictional New Hampshire town as it transitions from relative rural poverty to being more upscale. Hebert attended Keene State College and is now a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College. He is the recipient of three journalism awards from United Press International, the Hemingway Foundation cited his novel Dogs of March for excellence, and he has received the Sarah Josepha Hale Award for lifetime achievement by a New England author. “I have two identities as a writer. Part of me is a realist. I want my novels to be truthful to the real world as I have experienced it. But I’m also a dreamer. I believe in the life of the imagination.”

George Ella Lyon’s most recent books include Many-Storied House: Poems and Voices from the March on Washington, a collection of poetry for young adults, co-written with J. Patrick Lewis. A native of Harlan County, Kentucky, Lyon makes her living as a freelance writer and teacher based in Lexington. She currently serves as the state’s Poet Laureate (2015-2016).

How iA Writer Keeps It Simple (And Not So Simple)

iA Writer is described as a “simple plain text editor that was designed to provide a focused writing experience for business proposals, essays, white papers, poems, novels, and screenplays.”

When I started reading the reviews for iA Writer I was excited, it had high ratings on all the platforms and all the reviews kept emphasizing how brilliant and simple the application was. Little did I know ‘simple’ really was the keyword here, in fact, the first time I used iA Writer it seemed too simple. As I tried using more features and looking into what I could do with the app, I found it’s actually not all that simple at all. I looked into some tutorials to help me figure out some of the more technical features, such as markdown icons and some of the online integration.

So what exactly does iA Writer do? For me, the best way I could describe it is like a fancy Memo/Notes app or a really simplified Word app that you can integrate with certain online platforms. Basically it is a text word document that looks like this on your Android:

 

screenshot_2016-11-13-19-15-09

Now, to really get the most out of this app you should play around with it yourself, but I’m just going to briefly explain all the bits and pieces you see here.

At the very top of the screen you have:

-The back arrow: This will take you to your library of documents and has options at the top of the screen for adjusting your settings and starting a new document.

-File: If you tap on ‘File’, you can start a new document, open a document from a different folder or export the current document you’re editing to Plain Text, HTML, PDF, or Word document.

-Edit: This is the page you’re looking at; it’s where you write the things.

-View: This will change how you can view your app. It includes a Night Mode which turns the background of the app black and turns the text white, Focus Mode which lets you tap on a sentence and it will highlight that sentence you want to focus on, and Word Count, which will place a word count at the top of your editable document. For example:

screenshot_2016-11-12-21-03-15

-The forward arrow: This will take you to the Templates page where you can preview what your document will look like and you can also export in all the same formats mentioned from this page too.

The controls on top of the keyboard are:

-The back arrow: This is just a back button, tap it and it will take you back to whatever is before your cursor (for example, if you’re cursor is sitting on a word and you notice a typo in the word before it, you can hit the back arrow and it will take you back one word).

-H1: This indicates HTML titles or Heading Titles. This button basically inserts a markdown for a H1, H2, H3, etc. titles in your document. If you don’t know what these are you should google them, but basically they are used to structure website pages so search engines can better understand the content on the page. Also, they are just useful for structuring your writing too.

I: You know what this is, but if I have to say, it’s your italics button.

-The check list icon: This is exactly what you think it is… unless you think it has something that has nothing to do with lists, in which case you’re very wrong. This will insert a list into your document and that’s actually really awesome. So much time saved on formatting dot points!

-The tick box: Again, this is pretty obvious, this will check off the items on your previously mentioned list.

-Paste: This is your Paste, Copy, Cut function. It might take a little finessing as you learn how to use it.

-Curved arrows: These are your Redo and Undo buttons.

-The forward arrow: Does the same but opposite of the backwards arrow, use it to move forward word by word, etc. through your document.

 

And that is all the features regarding the actual writing bit of this app. The other features revolve around sharing and exporting, which is probably the winning aspect of this app – it makes sharing your writing to digital platforms and drives more direct. I really want to focus on the writing aspect of this app though, since this blog is all about finding tools that help writers get the words onto a page of some kind and then make those words awesome to read.

As a writing app, I went into this one with high expectations from all the stellar reviews and ratings… I think that was a mistake. My first question and still my biggest problem with this app is “Where’s the freaking spell check?”. Now as a writer, we all know spell check isn’t reliable, it keeps changing back to US English all the time and also it tells us words we know are words aren’t words (not to mention, what I just wrote would have been one hell of a sentence fragment). I get it, not including a spell check is not a damning problem and you still have your phone’s spell check (lol). BUT when you get into that mode and you become the writing demon, where the world ceases to exist and you couldn’t give a fudge about silly things like grammar or “real words”, a little red or green line telling you where you messed up is sometimes necessary.

My only other issue with this app is that I didn’t get it straight away, it wasn’t super intuitive in regards to the user interface. I think some people will get it pretty quickly, but I think most people (especially the less technical/digital-savvy writers) probably won’t really get everything that this app can do. This makes it seem way too simple at first and it also means you have to invest time and effort into understanding the full functionality of this app. For example, I needed to look up what the Markdown function was all about and what symbols would create what affect in a finished document. For more information about this and it’s full range of features, you would be best to go to the app’s website, it’s really useful – https://ia.net/writer

Having said all that, I can see why millions of people (including Stephen Fry apparently) are using it. If you forget about all the techy features and the horrendous swipe sensitivity (you swipe left or right to move through the sections of the app, so when you’re scrolling up or down you will accidentally swipe to Templates or the Library), this becomes a ludicrously simple writing tool. Again, think fancy Notes or minimalist Word app, but this is what you will love or hate about it.

I think the deal breaker with this app is that by design it’s just convenient. People are glued to their phones and iPads now, and iA Writer has just capitalized on that fact. One piece of advice a writer will inevitably receive at some point in their lifetime is “carry a notebook on you at all times, so when the moment strikes you can just write it down”. This is all well and good, except that takes a special level of dedication and basic ability to function as an adult that many of us writers simply do not have – we do however have our phones on us. Constantly. Like, all the time. I mean, where else but Facebook or Twitter could you find so much inspiration for characters you want to kill off later?

Ultimately, I feel this app is something you are either going to be really disappointed by and not see much point in, or you’re going to really enjoy it. Try it for yourself and see what you think, even share your experience here for everyone to see! You can download iA Writer on iOS or Android.

October – Penned: Interviews with Writers

Writing eliminates the mask that an artist holds pressed to their skin. Writing frees a voice hidden within that reaches out through an artist’s hand – a hand holding a pen. That pen is a channel. Its inky words drip from a writer’s soul, blotting in heartbeats on a wrinkled page. That’s how a writer survives.

In case you missed last month’s Penned, various writers, emerging and established, respond to a themed question about their writing process. These writers showcase their passion, their determination, and their love for the written word – not just already on the page, but words they themselves have lovingly penned. Penned seeks to inspire writers, current and future, to unleash the capacity of shared experiences in this tumultuous wordy lifestyle, turning them into the lyrical.

The October theme: Why you first sent out for publication.

 

Steven Shields:

Like many writers, I first sent work out as a kind of gut-check, way back in 1976.  If somebody besides Mom liked it, I reasoned, maybe I was onto something.  And then I got my one and only acceptance for “Your Cats Look Like Taxi-Cabs to Me” from the now-defunct New Infinity Review.  It was another 25 years before I found the nerve to try again.

Chelsea Dingman:

Honestly, a friend of mine told me to. That’s the simple answer. He is a well-published poet and he believed that I’d have a better time applying to MFA programs if I had some knowledge as to how the publishing industry worked. He also believed my work was ready. Which is huge. We had taken a grad-level poetry workshop together and he has great editorial instincts. I know that those first poems that went out were terrible. But I learned to expect and appreciate rejection and how to push through it and not take it personally. I was surprised when I got my first acceptances, but in the way that poetry surprises me with its possibilities. When I send out, I’m reminded by a line of poetry by Gretchen Marquette from her poem, “Want:” I was satisfied, so long as it wasn’t impossible.

Stephanie Heit:

Because I was a dancer and performer. Charged by the moment of performance with audience as witness when air particles accelerated. Desire to shift the breath patterns of those watching. As a college freshman dance major, I didn’t hesitate to send off a poem to a submission call from the Movement Research Journal. I don’t remember the details of the piece I sent but do remember receiving a rejection.

Jessica Walsh:

I was a teenager in rural Michigan in the pre-internet era–I was lonely. Sending out my poetry was my flag, my message in a bottle, my sos. I wasn’t even sure the poetry world actually existed, but I knew I needed to find other seekers. I made a special order for Poet’s Market through the local newsstand/bookstore and began firing poetry flares.

Angela Mitchell:

As a child, I wrote letters. It was the age of pen pals and I had one in Canada, another in Australia. Later, I wrote to a woman living in a nursing home in Kansas. My grandfather found a balloon in a pasture, its string stuck in manure, and inside it was the woman’s address. I, a stranger, wrote to her, and she wrote back. Publication is the same, words sent out to strangers, words waiting for a response.

 

I’d like to thank all of this month’s participants! I hope you, writers, have enjoyed this month’s Penned. Be on the lookout for next month’s special edition of Penned, which will include well-known authors responding to a question relating to The Drowning Gull‘s Encounters with Nature issue!

Interviewees:

Steven Shields has written poems since a high school lit teacher offered extra credit for writing a sonnet cycle (which he wrote over a weekend, not knowing good ones take months or even years).  A move to Atlanta in 2001 led to steady publication and a book, “Daimonion Sonata,” along the way in 2005.  His day job is teaching communication coursework at the University of North Georgia. His poetry veers between formal and open forms; his prose includes prose poems, micro-fictions and lyric essays.

Chelsea Dingman has been writing off and on since she wrote a book of poetry for her fifth grade teacher. The last two years, she has been pursuing her MFA at the University of South Florida. Her first book won the National Poetry Series and is forthcoming from the University of Georgia Press (2017).  Visit her website: chelseadingman.com.

Stephanie Heit is a poet and dancer who has written and moved interchangeably since childhood. She lives with bipolar disorder and is a member of the Olimpias, an international disability performance collective. Her debut poetry collection, The Color She Gave Gravity, was a Nightboat Poetry Prize finalist and is forthcoming from The Operating System in 2017. Her work most recently appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Typo, Streetnotes, Nerve Lantern, QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, and Spoon Knife Anthology.  https://independent.academia.edu/StephanieHeit.

Jessica L. Walsh has been writing poetry for over 20 years, but really kicked into high gear in the last decade. She has a PhD in English Literature from University of Iowa and teaches at Harper College. Her first book, How to Break My Neck, was recently published by ELJ. Her work can also be seen in journals like Midwestern Gothic, Tinderbox, The Fem, Whale Road, Ninth Letter online, and more. Visit her website at jessicalwalsh.com.

Angela Mitchell‘s stories have appeared in lColorado Review, New South, Carve, Midwestern Gothic, and others. Her story, “Animal Lovers,” was the winner of the 2009 Nelligan Prize from Colorado Review; it was given special mention in The Pushcart Prize XXXV, and listed as one of thirty “Distinguished Stories” in the inaugural issue of New Stories from the Midwest. She recently attended the Sewanee Writers’ Conference as a Tennessee Williams Scholar. At work on her first novel and a collection of short stories, Mitchell is the director of the St. Louis Writers Workshop.

 

Pro Writing Aid: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

prowritingaid

Pro Writing Aid is more than just an editing app for writing. It is a free online site that will refine your writing technique and help you to gain a more intimate understanding of your own writing, including what’s great about it and what’s not-so-great about it. The fact that you’re able to use this for free, even though it’s functionality is limited in the free version, is pretty amazing – it’s basically like having an editor at your fingertips.

When I first opened the site, I was waiting to be bombarded with a plethora of editing options and buttons with nonsense images on them that scare me a little. Instead I was met with a really straight forward user interface and design that directs the eye to exactly where it needs to pay attention. So I pasted my work into the site and waited for the report. Now, there are two things that I really love about this program:

  1. It checks all the things! It doesn’t just see if there are spelling or grammatical errors, it checks for things like: overused words; fluff words (words that are often used as filler but can usually be cut out); clichés and redundancies; repeated phrases; sentence length; paragraph length; dialogue tags; vague or abstract words; consistency in punctuation or capitalisation and so on; transition; eloquence; complexity; and that maybe covers half of what this mean machine can do! It’s all the things a good editor would check your work for, but without running the risk of off-putting editorial manners or being personally offended by their “subjectivity”. Your own report may look something this: pro-writing-aid-analysis-image-1
  2. It lets you check the errors and change them as you go through the Summary Report, so you can see exactly where and how often these errors are occurring, then fix them straight away. I loved being able to see the errors in my work within the context of the work itself. It puts the ball back into your own court and allows you to assess whether the errors it’s picked up are in fact errors (it is a computer after all and it doesn’t get everything; i.e. Bustle vs. bustle.com is seen as a capitalisation inconsistency, which is true but totally okay to do in this case).

What I found most valuable in using Pro Writing Aid was discovering aspects of my own writing that were sweet and other aspects that really need some work. For example, I use certain colloquialisms when I’m writing because it’s how I talk, and while they are technically still correct, it’s not good writing. I also found that there were particular fluff words I used a lot and other words or phrases I repeat. So where you will really find value in this writing app is by using it to take an objective look at your writing and see how the suggestions improve it from a technical perspective, as well as gaining a unique insight into your writing habits.

Overall, I highly rate the Pro Writing Aid site and am currently looking into buying one of the upgraded packages to remove some of limited functionality of the free version. My only complaint about the site is that there is something weird happening with titles and tabs overlaying each other, which is confusing and makes it hard to see some of the options. Weird layout aside, this is definitely worth a try of the free version and from there it’s up to you to decide.

PS. Pro Writing Aid totally has a free ebook download at the moment (available for a limited time only), titled The Novel Writing Training Plan – 17 Steps To Get Your Ideas In Shape For The Marathon Of Writing – Check it out: https://prowritingaid.com/en/Landing/Ebook2