Saturday, March 14, 2009

A salt with a deadly weapon

Whenever I meet wonderful new people, I try to get a group together of ones who seem as though they might enjoy one another's company. By last autumn I had met several these fascinating folks, all of whom are writers (a playwright, a journalist-playwright, and a poet), and that always calls for a dinner party. Little did I know that something as innocent as mango chutney on pork could have sent one guest to the emergency room. It didn't (thankfully), and she was so cool about it that I never knew there was a problem. Later, however, I learned that she had made art out of her suffering by selling a book on the subject. Sandra Beasley's book Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales From an Allergic Life will be published next year by Crown. Besides writing about such serious stuff (albeit I'm certain with her characteristic flair), Sandra is an editor at The American Scholar, an award-winning, much-published poet, and the Literary Chair of the Arts Club of Washington. Her website is

Meanwhile, here's what she had to say in The Washington Post about my not-so-innocent dinner party, and the near-mayhem caused by those malicious mangoes.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I heart literary journals

It should by now be obvious to all seven readers of this blog that I am insanely, over-the-moon in love with literary journals. It's a new love. For some reason I was previously put off by some of the tweedy names, earnest covers, and a faint but unmistakable whiff of pretension. Plus I didn't much care for the handful of people I knew who submitted (an arty girl in my high school who played guitar in minor chords only; a guy in grad school who had a habit of slyly and poetically insulting his friends; any number of twits who name-dropped all the poets they met for five minutes at public readings), and I mistakenly thought that meant the journals themselves were amateur-ville.

I was completely wrong. Now that I have subscribed to several and actually read each one, issue after issue, I'm deeply impressed with the quality of the writing, the astonishingly good taste of many of the editors, and the consistent caliber of already-successful authors who don't need to publish there but who choose to because of the readership and the credibility. Receiving these journals is like receiving a valentine from the literary world each time they appear. Thank you, editors and staffs, for creating these gems. I believe journals will be the keepers of literary fiction and poetry during tough economic times for books, and that the good ones will survive.

Here is a partial list of those to which I have subscribed. There will be more in the future: Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, Indiana Review, New England Review, Missouri Review, Threepenny Review. Any suggestions for others?

PS: If you love fiction and/or poetry, please show it by subscribing to literary journals. Yes, you can read them at the library, especially if you work at a university, but do consider going that extra step and buying actual and ongoing subscriptions.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Great quote, but is it Vonnegut?

So much has been falsely attributed to Kurt Vonnegut that I hesitate to quote this, but it's apt. I first saw it in Poets & Writers on an ad for Butler University's MFA program, but a quick internet search suggests it has been a darling of book bloggers for quite a while.

"When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth."

I love the word "ineffable," because it sums it up: it means "Incapable of being expressed in words."

Sara Nelson in The Daily Beast

Kudos to The Daily Beast for running work by laid-off Publisher's Weekly editor-in-chief Sara Nelson. The blog item below came from her work.

How to get your fiction or even poetry published

Hudson River hero Chesley Sullenberger has demonstrated once and for a key publishing principle I've emphasized for years. He just got a $3 million book deal for a quickie about his splash landing on New York's iconic river, and his agent scored a tagalong coup. The publisher will also issue a volume of his inspirational poems. This is a variation on what I've said to authors since at least 1997: if you want agents and publishers to care about your fiction or your poetry, make some money for them first on a commercial nonfiction project. Many publishers will please a moneymaking author by agreeing to publish fiction, even if it doesn't "earn out," as long as the author's nonfiction is a steady plus for the team. Poems are a longer shot, but if your nonfiction earns enough (and Sullenberger's probably will), it's possible.

Personally, I'm no more likely to read Sullenberger's poems than I was to ponder the musings of that sweet but ubiquitous kid, Mattie Stepanek, and his Heartsongs series. But he'll surely find an audience -- perhaps enough that the poetry will do well. And who knows? Sullenberger might surprise me and become a meaningful addition to my poetry reading life (I'm still campily fond of Rod McKuen, and I'll defend him to the death, me hearties), but whether he does or doesn't, he got what he wanted from a publisher by bringing home some bacon for them first.

The above image of Rod McKuen is from Life magazine.