Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Blah, blah, blah

I am having a little snit here over rejections and black holes. I do understand rejections slips. I've sure seen plenty of them. I don't weep and wail over "Good luck with your writing." I update my spreadsheet, rethink the venues, and keep going. What I don't like is the big black hole where a submission sinks and never resurfaces. Of course, that is the nature of black holes, to suck in energy and never give it back. But when people--editors--invite me to send them work, then fail to respond after months and months, I get testy. Yes, I contacted said editor. She protested that she was busy and would get to it. Well, she didn't. So now I have to be the bad guy and tell her I'm done, we're breaking up, don't call me ever again, because I want those poems to be read, not to sit in her in-box till they yellow and crumble. It's the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome, and like Nixon, I won't be kicked around. I am not a crock. Or crook, either way. And now you know what I think about that, I'm taking the rest of the day off and going out with my camera. Well, after I send out a short story to another editor. Oh, this is stupid stuff, Father William! I fell down the writer's rabbit hole, and I'm not climbing out. All these mixed citations and cliches are making me queasy. More later when I'm civil.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lit Bizz

I love writing, finding a way to solve the puzzle that each piece of fiction or each poem presents. Sometimes I even like the business of writing. For those starting out, the prospect of tracking submissions, avoiding simultaneous subs, sending out bios, all of that, seems like so much nuisance. It's not. It's the professional side of being a writer. It's owning a handful of three-ring binders for storing hard copy of everything. It will only take one stolen or dead computer to make you believe in paper. It helps to backup your computer too. Recently I switched laptops and thank heaven for having put my files on a "thumb thing" in order to transfer all that work to the new computer.

And when that wonderful acceptance letter or email comes, I have learned the hard way to keep it safe. I have a short story that was accepted a year ago. I moved, off loaded a bunch of paper, and lost the acceptance. Now I'm thinking about the day when I might compile a book of short fiction, but I have no way to fully acknowledge, or confirm, that publication. I cannot in good conscience list this work as forthcoming or recently published, because like the CSI team, I want hard evidence. This gap in my records nags at me. It would be much better to have stapled that letter to the first page of the story. My submissions spreadsheet just has too little room for full details.

Keeping track of poems is a different process. Because I send poems out in groups, I don't keep a spreadsheet on them. I paperclip them together with a sticky note telling me which publication has that submission packet. And I keep these poems in a magazine file, along with upcoming market calls and contests. It all takes time, but less and less as I refine the process. I'd love to hear how others manage the lit bizz side of writing.

Monday, April 28, 2008

When You Have Nothing to Say

Your mind just wanders, you watch birds out the window, sort old coupons and throw out the expired offers for tires, massage, windshield fixes, all that stuff. You sort the bills and put the ones you must pay tomorrow in front of you on the desk. You check every site on your favorites list, try searching for old news stories on line. You do anything to avoid the fact that right this minute you have nothing urgent to tell the world. Writing is such a roll of the dice. But at least you sit there at the desk, just in case a character or a scene pops up. Maybe the birds will do a dance at the edge of the porch. Maybe one of these coupons will trigger a conflict. Should you go to lunch with that friend just to use the coupon? Imagine a friend you haven't seen in years meeting you at a restaurant you've never been too. Coupon in your pocket, your best face on, you get there early--or late--and look at each face waiting to be seated. And there she is, more lined, more gray, but still recognizable. Aha, now we have the beginning of a story. What happens next? Who suffers? Who benefits? How are you changed? How is the friend changed by this meeting? Go for it!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lit Festival

As the organizer of the festival at Arapaho Community College put it, it's nice to be coddled once in a while. Workshops and writers' gatherings do that for me. After all the hours at the keyboard or with pen in hand, it's a luxury to hang out with like-minded folk, hear the readings, do the exercises and come away with at least one or two new tricks for the magic bag. Writing is magic. And worrisome. I struggle so often with authenticity, by which I mean that old, trite, but true, question of the imposter. Do I really have the right to call myself a writer? Publishers' Weekly doesn't know my name. But do electricians or plumbers or truck drivers need that sort of recognition? No, they do their jobs and I do mine. I'm working Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way and Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write, and they help.

A point Cameron makes is that of synchronicity. And as I was worrying about money for a full-length novel course, I opened her next chapter and there was an opening about the frequent misconception that God (however we each define her/him/it) not wanting us to use our money for art's sake or to take financial risks for art's sake. Well, I ran to my to-do list and made a note to use my prize money for the novel course. That now makes sense to me. I get money from writing and I spend that money to increase my writing. Talk to you tomorrow, after I sign up for that course.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"Alien Children"

This will be short today. I am about to go to a lit festival and claim my prize for a poem called "Mingle-Tongue." I wrote this piece a long time ago, when my aunt was undergoing medical tests and things looked gloomy for her. My aunts helped raise me, and my relationship with my niece is strong. I wonder if anyone has looked long and hard at these "collateral" relationships among women. If I remember rightly, in Celtic culture boys were often raised by their maternal uncles. This strengthened the clan. We know the longitudinal effect of grandparents raising or helping to raise children, and that was also true in my case. But I do wonder about other families where the aunts and uncles take on important roles. My uncles too were a great factor in my childhood as my father was largely absent, having remarried and had a raft of kids, with no real room for me.

I think about what I call the Cleaver Myth, that kids grow up in an intact nuclear family and Mom wears a dress and pearls at breakfast. I don't buy it. I think the majority of kids have some disruption in that structure. Maybe that's why so many of my stories involve lost or found or abandoned kids. I just finished one titled "My Alien Children." I love the story and will send it out soon. Here's the first paragraph:

The children are in the park again on Saturday afternoon, all thin, with smooth mocha skin, high cheek bones, pointed chins, short dark hair, and eyes with very white sclera and variously colored irises, some yellow, some blue, green, or brown. And I think, "Oh, there are more of them today." Nine of them, their names are Ana, the tallest girl, Kat, Rho, Leah, and Sim, these seated on the bottom step fo several cut into the side of a small hill to my left. On the other side of the path four play in the dirt with small, brightly colored dolls. The children's skin is so smooth that dirt doesn't cling to them. These are Lin, Su, Jac, and Sum. I like these children. Cannot call them kids. They have too much dignity for such a casual label. If I were to ask where they came from or how they happen to be in the park, I know that each one would have a different story. They are not only alien to me, but to each other. I've never seen their parents. Ana seems to watch out for the smaller ones. At sunset they leave, single file, with Ana leading. I'd like to follow, but have no right to satisfy my curiosity.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Techno Idiot

Well, I just proved my title for the day. I minimized the draft and lost the whole magilla. What I want to say is that Duncan, my Cairn terrier, is standing in for me on the blog site because I cannot make my own picture look like anything but a bad cartoon. Duncan is an unmade bed of a dog, and I love him beyond reason, but I don't look like him. I have short hair, which I brush every morning. He will stand still about five minutes once a week to be groomed. So, I am not a dog. I don't care what anyone says. But I'll get the hang of this Photo Shop thing. I will. I will.

One reason that I want to post photos is to show off a little. I want my books with me on this site. Until I can show their faces, as well as my own, here's a list.

Visible Progress, with Beverly Rainbolt, McNeil Street Studios, 1984. Out of print.

This is a dual chapbook, self-published, with my long-lost friend Beverly. Hey, girlfriend, if you're out there, talk to me.

Red Goddess Poems, illustrations by Elizabeth Ostrander, Cafe Review Chapbooks, 1992. OOP.

Elizabeth has graced this book with amazing wood cuts. She too is lost to me, but welcome back if she's listening.

Bones in the Chimney, Elsewhere Press, 1993. OOP, but available at

"In this, her first fiction, Karen Douglass has taken a few dusty scraps of Colonial town history and woven them into a stunning series of interconnected tales . . . a truly astonishing glimpse into our own history, shorn of schoolbook heroics and cloying quaintness."

Green Rider, Thinking Horse: My Journey with a Standardbred, Soleil Press, 2004. Available at Sales benefit, in part, the Standardbred horse in Maine.

"From barn rat to novice to competent horse handler, Douglass depicts her journey as a devoted supporter and owner of her favorite breed, and her favorite horse, a little bay gelding named Casco."

Sostenuto, (poems), Moonpie Press, 2006. Available at

"The songs of a woman making peace with the stories of Europe . . . Millicent eats the murder weapon while Mother shakes the house out like a purse, and she, the poet, keeps Paris in its own brown bag." --Martha King

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Good morning and welcome to my new blog. I will add photos and news as I go along. My news for today is that on Saturday, April 26, 2008, I will be at Arapaho Community College to read my poem "Mingle-Tongue." This piece took first prize in the ACC Writer's Studio contest. I love getting such affirmation and plan to enjoy my fifteen minutes.

Other poems have found a home in my beloved Cafe Review ( Steve Luttrell, the EiC and I, along with Wayne Atherton, our art editor, founded this review almost two decades ago! It's an all volunteer effort, and thanks to many wonderful friends and poets over those years, we have never missed an issue. It's been a bumpy ride at times, but well worth the effort. In celebration of our 20th next year, we plan a special issue to include essays from editors of other publications telling the world how they select the work they include. It promises to be a diverse and knowledgeable fund of insight for poets, teachers, general readers. We get to look into the sometimes mysterious workings of publishing poetry.

I just received my contributor's copy of the first issue of The Broome Review. Alan Guruianu, the editor, has done a wonderful job. This is a classy and interesting "Journal of Contemporary Literature." He includes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Check it out at

I look forward to lots of conversation here and welcome friends and visitors. Talks soon, KVD