Building Community for A Writer’s Craft

Untitled-2.inddNot long ago, I wrote about setting up the companion website for A Writer’s Craft. That is now up and running, but one thing I had always wanted to add was a discussion area, where teachers could talk about using the book and teaching introductory creative writing in 4 genres, and where students and teachers could share writing prompts, opportunities for undergraduate writers, etc.

In developing the companion site, we had talked about a number of services that could be used, since Palgrave.com doesn’t have a discussion feature for their companion websites. In the end, I settled on using GoodReads, which has the advantage of being linked to the textbook (on GoodReads) and open to all viewers. Anyone can read the discussions in a group, though to post to the group you need to login with GoodReads, Facebook, or Google and then join the group. That seems fairly easy for anyone to do, and I’ve found that GoodReads is a social media platform that isn’t too invasive — I can use it as much or as little as I want.

I called the group A Writer’s Craft Community to set the name apart from the title of the book and to emphasize that it is a community discussion. I hope this will become a good resource for anyone teaching introductory creative writing (though I also hope instructors will want to use my book).

So far, Teachers have discussion topics on:

  • Teaching 4 Genres
  • Sample Syllabi (I posted mine)
  • Workshop Strategies & Alternatives

Writers have discussions for:

  • Writing Prompts
  • Undergraduate Literary Magazines

I plan to add discussion topics in both folders, and I hope that people who are using the book will add to the discussion and maybe even suggest topics. Incidentally, I decided to have two groups, Teachers and Writers, because some people may get the book to use outside of a classroom. Though the Writers area is primarily aimed at undergraduate writers in an introductory class, teachers may add writing prompts, and the discussion could move on to topics of interest to any writer.

Companion Website for AWC

Untitled-2.inddThe companion website for my textbook A Writer’s Craft is now available at https://he.palgrave.com/companion/Dunkelberg-A-Writers-Craft/

Materials for teachers and students are publicly available, including:

  • Teaching with A Writer’s Craft
    • Why Teach 4 Genres
    • Cross-Genre Teaching
    • The Small Group Workshop
    • Full-Class Workshop
    • Midterm and Final Portfolios
    • Teaching Creative Writing with Literary Magazines
    • Plagiarism
  • For Students
    • Journal Exercises
    • Online Resources

For those who adopt the textbook, additional resources are available once you register with Palgrave and request access to the textbook’s restricted materials. These include:

  • Lecturer Materials
    • In-Class Exercises
    • Small Group Workshops (sample exercises)
    • Powerpoint presentations for
      • Chapters 4 & 8-14
      • Publishing
      • Workshop Guidelines

I hope the public materials will be useful to anyone teaching creative writing, though of course if they are, I also hope that provides an incentive to try using the book. I hope the restricted materials will make using the book easier or at least provide some models that you can use to create your own materials for the book that match your teaching style.

Book Review: Always Happy Hour by Mary Miller

Always Happy Hour: StoriesAlways Happy Hour: Stories by Mary Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mary Miller’s wit sparkles in these stories like a stiff drink with a healthy dash of bitters. They are dry, acerbic, and full of bitter irony. Consider the title, taken from a line on one of the later stories in the collection: it is “always happy hour,” yet no one seems happy in these stories. Or if they are, their happiness is fleeting, yet all of Miller’s characters are searching for this elusive spirit. We read these stories, not for the plot — spoiler alert, not much happens — but for Miller’s exquisite character studies, her detailed sense of place, and her subtle exploration of relationships. Miller’s narrators and female main characters are women, divorced or unmarried, most of whom are with or looking for boyfriends who are either divorced or unmarried. They are aware their relationships are imperfect and may not last. They may be dissatisfied with their current partner or they may be so satisfied they are sure they’ll do something to make their partner leave. We see the compromises they are willing to make for love, even as they struggle with commitment; we see them negotiate ex-wives and their boyfriends’ children; we see them struggle with family and friends who seem to have it all, at least if you believe their status updates. It is in the unguarded line of dialogue or the narrator’s reflections where Miller allows a realization, where we recognize ourselves in her flawed and human characters for whom a happy ending seems always just out of reach.

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Mary Miller will read at the Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium on October 20.

Book Review: Daniel Wallace, Extraordinary Adventures

Extraordinary AdventuresExtraordinary Adventures by Daniel Wallace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Daniel Wallace has given us another thoroughly enjoyable read. His characters are easy to invest in. Nothing that extraordinary happens in their lives, at least not until Edsel Bronfman receives an offer for a free weekend at a time share in Destin, Florida. Then his life does take a few fantastic turns. In this latest novel, the tall tales from Big Fish have been brought down to a human level, yet the choices and adventures Bronfman faces are no less dramatic. Wallace still questions whether the invented reality or the mundane events of life are more real. This is an unassuming tale, much like its unassuming and ordinary main characters, yet it has pathos and depth, showing that still waters run deep and that even a mild-mannered clerk from Birmingham, Alabama, can experience something extraordinary. And speaking of Birmingham, this novel is well worth the read for its loving portrayal of Wallace’s hometown.

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Daniel Wallace will appear at The Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium, Oct. 19-21, at Mississippi University for Women. the symposium is free and open to the public.

Book Review: Stripper in Wonderland

Stripper in Wonderland: PoemsStripper in Wonderland: Poems by Harriell, Derrick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you think the cover has energy, then hold onto your hat. These poems leap off the page with vibrant language and daring subjects. Harriell is willing to take on race and sex, falling in love and becoming a parent, living the wild life and settling down. And the speakers of these poems do not always come across as the perfect heroes. Harriell gets us to question ourselves as much as we question society. No one is off the hook in these poems and no one is irredeemable. It is a bawdy, brawling, brash celebration of life.

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More Advice for Poets

This is a follow-up post to the one I made recently about Poetry Submissions. This week, I placed two poems in Valley Voices, and on the recommendation of editor John Zheng, I sent 3 haiku to Asahi Haikuist Network who took them for upcoming issues in October and next May.

What I learned from this (or was reminded of) is that it is good to form friendships and connections with other editors. Without John’s suggestion, I might not have found Asahi Haikuist Network, which I’m now glad to be able to read and to publish in. Haiku isn’t the main style of poetry that I write, but I suspect that reading more will inspire me to write more. I have a series of haiku that I worked on for my 4th manuscript and may continue to add to. Most were published in Poetry South when John was the editor, but these newer ones hadn’t found a home until now (and I hadn’t sent them out until now).

The other lesson I discovered about submitting poetry is to put your best poems first. That may seem obvious, but in reading submissions I am often surprised by the number of poets who don’t do that — or maybe they think they are doing it, and I just don’t like Poem 1 as much as Poem 4. You do your best and you should try to put the best poem for the magazine you’re submitting to first — the order may change depending on where you’re submitting.

Often in a submission, I treat it like a mini-collection. Most journals want 3-5 poems, so that’s less than a cycle, but there’s still probably a logic to the poems you send out together. I hope a journal might pick up more than one, but I still feel the submission is stronger if I send related poems. Now and then, though, especially for a magazine I’m not as familiar with, I will send a fairly random group of poems. Still, I want the tone to be about the same (humorous or deep, for instance). Thematically, the poems may be different, but something should connect them.

I want an editor to like the group of poems I’ve sent and even to consider accepting all of them. I know the reality is that an editor will then choose the poem or maybe 2 poems they like the best, but giving a good total impression will help sway the decision in the favor of the 1-2 poems they like best.

Having one of those poems first in the submission file is imperative. A reader may not make it past Poem 1, and if they do, their opinion of the poet will be colored by the poem they read first, so the subsequent ones may not get as close attention if Poem 1 doesn’t strike a chord. I know that’s true for me when I’m reading. It’s only human nature and is influenced by the sheer bulk of submissions any reader for a magazine is likely to encounter.

Making a decision about the oder of poems in a submission is part of taking the proper care to submit work that is polished, proofread, and carefully revised. It’s part of the process that an editor will appreciate. And if all the poems in a submission packet are of roughly equal quality (I know as the writer it can be hard to make those determinations), then each poem should build on the previous one and lead into the next. Consider your submission as a whole and not as individual pieces of paper that you’ve thrown out into the wind.

Poetry Submissions

It’s been a busy period, getting classes started, welcoming new students to our MFA program, and working on the schedule for next semester — yes as an administrator, I always have to be thinking ahead! Yet maybe the most fun part of the new academic year has been spent with poetry submissions, which I’m looking at from both sides now.

On the one hand, all summer in any spare moments I can find, I’ve been reading poetry submissions for Poetry South. This is our second issue of editing the magazine, and this time I vowed to take a more active role. With Issue 8, I let our Literary Magazine Production class take the lead in reading through the slush pile, and I weighed in more with the final decisions and with putting the magazine together. Once the class moved on to focus on our other literary magazine Ponder ReviewI took on the slush for Poetry South.

Last semester that was a trickle and was fairly manageable to do on my own, but as we put out a call for submissions and as our annual July 15 deadline loomed, I knew I would be overwhelmed, so I did call in reinforcements with 3 volunteers over the summer. We received about an additional 180 submissions. Reading them has been fun and challenging, and it has given me insights into my own submission process:

  1. I need to submit more and to more places. Editing a magazine drives home the old advice that every journal has way more submissions than they can possibly use. So you need to get your work out to many places. I still don’t like doing too many simultaneous submissions, but I have quite a few poems, so I need to keep them out there, and when a magazine has had them for awhile, I’d rather send those poems somewhere else and then withdraw from whoever accepts first.
  2. There’s a lot of pretty decent poetry out there. Some of it may be better than others, but what gets accepted often has more to do with what strikes an editor’s fancy than absolute quality. Maybe a poem works well with another poem that’s been accepted. Or maybe the editors don’t want two similar poems in the same issue. Judgements can be arbitrary and subjective (but when you’re accepted, it’s still a sure sign that your poem was the best).
  3. I will try to avoid submitting close to a deadline — I’m looking further out and trying to submit while there’s still a fair amount of time left. I know from my reading experience that the last poems in chronological order are likely to get less attention. On the other hand, I’m still looking for a few really good submissions, so it’s never too late. The bar may be higher, but a great poem will still get noticed.
  4. I will look for calls for submission in some of the same places I post them — Submittable, CRWROPPS, Duotrope, etc. I know when I do that many others will be submitting but the journals are actively seeking submissions. I also go back to some of my favorite journals and try to catch them when their submission periods are starting. I set reminders for myself if there’s a place I really want to target.
  5. I will keep submitting even if submissions keep getting returned. I know how overwhelmed journal editors are (and Poetry South is a small magazine with many fewer submissions than most). I can’t take it personally, though I will take any individualized note about a submission personally. If someone takes the time to do that, then I’m happy.

The nice thing about working with Kathleen, Xenia, and Tammie on Poetry South is that I don’t feel I have to catch everything. If I’m tired and therefore don’t pay close attention to a poem, one of them wi’ll let me know if they saw anything in it. If someone liked it, I’ll give it another look. If it didn’t speak to anyone, then we’re probably safe passing on it and letting another editor at another magazine take it. Nobody’s perfect, and if we miss a great poem, well, so be it.

Besides reading submissions, I’ve been sending poems out. I’m trying to target my submissions better (always) and trying to shoot for better placement in magazines with larger subscription bases and bigger reputations, though I’m also looking for good little magazines that maybe I haven’t heard of. I want to send to a mix of magazines so my odds of getting accepted are better, and yet the chance of getting in a top market is good.

And I wrote my publisher, Texas Review Press and sent them a book proposal for poetry collection #4, currently with the working title of Breathe and Other Poems. Let’s see if they bite…