Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The First 10 Things That Came to Mind

  1. I am on the east coast for two weeks. It feels strange. Family and friends are great though. 
  2. Braiding the Storm is *officially* available for PREORDER
  3. Submission Bombers are really taking off.
  4. In the last two weeks I received four rejections and one acceptance. 1 out of 5 ain't bad.
  5. Weave submissions close on Thursday, May 31st.
  6. I'm WAY behind on Chapbook Rookie updates. Somehow, I've gotten shy about marketing now. I think it's because I'm actually asking people to spend money on something now. More on this topic... someday?
  7. Finished reading The Hunger Games and saw the movie. Books are always so much better.
  8. I am not a zombie (see photo* below).
  9. I really wish I had a kitchen table.
  10. Go buy my chapbook. Please and thank you.
*photographic proof of my humanness 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Marginalized Writers vs. Marginalized Voices

One of the first questions to come up in the Submission Bombers group was "How do you define marginalized?" At first I was irked because I didn't want everyone to get weighed down with spiraling political discussions that won't have a resolution. However, after I got over my deep-seated fear of debates, (what if I say something wrong!? what if I sound stupid?!! what if I forget how to spell words?!?!) I knew it was important to discuss this topic. Since, you know, the whole basis for the group is to help the marginalized.

I started with definitions. The dictionary is usually a good starting point, even if the definition is problematic, it gives people a framework to push on and examine. Here's a few:
The first definition included a few nouns that articulate my evolving definition of marginalization as it applies to writing, but first a bit about editing.

I started my lit mag, Weave, with the intent of showing off the diverse voices of my peers and mentors. I solicited a lot of women. People outside of academia. People who didn't call themselves writers, but who wrote the occasional poem. It was important to me that we be as diverse as possible and to feature at least half women. Last year I created a Google Form for my contributors about their demographic (and other) information. I realized that we were doing really well in certain areas: more than half of our contributors are female writers, a large percentage of LGBT writers, and a handful of emerging writers. Areas in need of improvement were writers of color and writers of age (Weave is mostly white, with the next largest racial demographic being Asian/Pacific Islanders; we also lean heavily toward writers under 35).

I wondered, how do I improve in these areas without wandering into affirmative action territory? The only solution I'd come up with was to advertise Weave in journals that feature only people of color. But, should it matter whether a black writer or an octogenarian wrote this poem or that story? It's about birds! That doesn't have much to do with their race or age. Besides, what I really care about is the writing itself. Is the writing solid, nuanced, boundary-pushing? Is it discussing topics we don't see addressed that often? Is this a story that we haven't heard yet?

Then I began to think, does marginalization mean minority? Are they synonymous? That seemed wrong, because at some point it gets exclusive, rather than inclusive. By that theory, a young, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, middle-class male would not be allowed in Submission Bombers. It felt weird to draw the line somewhere and say, "You aren't welcome here!" Mary Stone Dockery, a lovely poet, who's been helping me promote and motivate the Submission Bombers, had some great points to make about marginalization and minority status:

I don't think marginalized is synonymous for minority. When I think of "margainalized voices," it makes me think of anyone who has a particular kind of writing style, or ...who writes [about] certain subject matter, and [their words] not being out there for everyone to read, or this kind of writing is suggested as only for a particular kind of publication (for example, writing about women is only for women's magazines). So, to me, a margainalized voice is one who has something to say that's different somehow, or someone saying something in a different way and who rarely gets the chance to be heard.

I was hesitant at first. If the writer's (gender) identity isn't what's marginalize, but rather her voice, the writing, why all the fuss about numbers? What's the point of the VIDA count? And if it does matter, shouldn't we be counting everyone? If the writer's gender matters, why wouldn't other things such as race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, age, etc. matter? But those numbers aren't as easy to obtain. (Neither is gender, for that matter, though we can make assumptions based on names. Anyone know how VIDA gets their numbers? I've always been curious).

Eventually I began to sway. To bring my point back around to that first definition, the discussion should be about our concepts or ideas. Obviously it's about the writing. We (editors) say this all the time, but before, in the back of my mind I couldn't reconcile the part gender plays in the writing itself. And helping women is important to me. Sometimes gender is addressed in our writing. Some of the time, it's not. At times, a writer of color tells a story that deals with race. Sometimes a writer who's a grandparent writes poems about grandparenting. Sometimes a writer who is blind writes an essay about living without sight. But those same people also write about other things. And maybe they write about them in new and fresh ways. Maybe not. But as an editor, I want to publish new voices writing about new ideas/experiences AND publish high quality writing. I'm not going to publish a story about erections just because a queer person wrote it and I need to up my stats (unless of course, the story nuanced and fresh, though, erections are rarely subtle). But I'd publish a well-written, compelling poem about single parenthood or mental illness by a young, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, middle-class male. Those subjects interest me and, quite frankly, their gender and all of the other labels shouldn't matter. The writing matters most.

So as writers, how does this affect us? Obviously our identities affect our writing and its themes, subject matter, structure, syntax, etc. These areas often overlap. But I think when we talk about being marginalized as writers, we're really talking about the marginalization of our voices, our ideas, our words. Or, at least we should be. Sometimes our words directly address our marginalization; after all, our writing is a part of us. But not the whole of us. And if we writers let the part of us that is marginalized keep us from saying what's on our mind, they truly nothing will change.

I think the VIDA count is one piece of the puzzle, but certainly not the whole. And since we can't count every part of us that gives us "marginalized" status, maybe counting isn't the answer. Perhaps it's time to stop counting and start writing. And when we're done writing, we must turn off all those voices in our minds that tell us, "Who's going to care about this story or that poem?" because we all can come up with a million reasons not to send our work out into the world. We must refuse to accept the marginalization of our voices and shut off the noise. Because we only need to listen to one voice - our own voice that whispered the words we've written down, labored over, tweaked and edited and rewritten. That voice deserves to be heard. So what if 20 journals reject you? Take their feedback and constructive criticism into consideration if you want, show it to a friend, workshop it some more, polish the rough edges and send it back out there.  Because you put those words on paper for a reason. Trust your own creative impulse. Don't allow yourself to merely count from the margins and instead say, "Listen to me!" Make us listen. Tell us what you have to say.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Submission Bombers Seek New Target! Calling All Lit Mags & Editors!

UPDATE 6/22/12: I've added a page with more info on the Submission Bombers, how you can join as a writer, and how the group works in general. Check it out. 

A few weeks ago I started a little experiment on Facebook called Submission Bombers. The concept is simple: get a bunch of writers who all feel marginalized in some way and get them all to submit to the same market at once. Much like yarn bombing or seed bombing, the idea is to give editors what they claim to not get: submissions from us, the marginalized.

It took a few days to shape the specifics. Once I started inviting people to the private group, I told members to invite anyone that might be interested. I also made a public post about the group, telling people to comment if they wanted to participate. I didn't want to be the gatekeeper of who and who isn't marginalized.

Questions arose: Won't this just overwhelm the already thin-stretched staff of most publications? Will we piss of the editors? What does "marginalized" mean? Is this just a way to get revenge after a rejection? What publications will we bomb? All good questions, and I tried my best to answer them. I also developed a statement of purpose, parts of which are here:

What is the purpose of Submission Bombers?

To take positive action on a large scale.

LARGE SCALE = Big Facebook group of writers!

ACTION = writing awesome stuff! sending awesome stuff to editors hungry for your words!

Since other "bombings" like those above are centered around being stealthy, many people had concerns about stressing out editors. That shifted our definition of bombing to being about large scale action.

Based on those initial concerns, we decided to seek out an editor who was willing to collaborate on our first bombing, rather than stealth bombing an editor with tons of submissions. After two weeks of submission bombing our first target, I know at least four writers from the group got acceptances.

However acceptance isn't the goal of Submission Bombers. Submitting is the goal. Additional perks emerged including group discussions about marginalization, publication rates, frequency of resubmitting, and the airing of general frustrations or concerns about diversity in literary publishing.

But the most positive thing to come out of this group so far is something so obvious, I couldn't believe I didn't predict it. Motivation and accountability. So many members thanked me for giving them the boost they needed to submit their writing. Much like exercising with a buddy, we're all in this submission game together. It should become part of the routine. This normally solitary, hidden process of gathering together a manuscript to submit is now something we are doing together, as a community, for the sake of submitting and supporting one another as we each try to make our way as writers.

BTW: Writers, if you are interested in joining the Submission Bombers just request a FB friendship and message me for an invite.

Today marks the end of our first bombing. Our community is emboldened by the individual acceptances and overall participation rate. The group has almost 400 people and while a small fraction told the group about their submission, I'm sure a few others still did and kept it a secret. I imagine that with each bombing we'll have varying levels of participation, but I expect the next few to grow significantly.

Editors, this is where you come in.

We need a new target. We have work we want to submit. We are a diverse group and hopefully getting more so as we grow. We are the writers you might not hear from as often: women, writers of color, lgbtqia writers, writers of age, emerging writers, non-academics, varying socioeconomic backgrounds, writers with varying/different abilities, writers who want to be heard.

If you are an editor and you're interested in a participating in a Submission Bombing in the very near future, please leave me a comment below with your contact info and a link to your publications website. We're especially interested in publications that accept poetry and prose submissions and have some online content to help our writers become familiar with the work you publish.

SO, who wants to hear from us? Who wants some explosive writing? Who wants to read the freshest stories and cutting-edge poems? That's us. We have our words ready for you. We've got stamps. We're waiting to hit send.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Since I'm Too Tired to Write...

...here are some photos I've took with Instagram (I am @laurathepoet). Instagram finally became available for my Android phone and I've been taking lots of pics of the cityscape. It's part of my "look around" motto, to get me out of my head and experiencing my environment. Turns out May is a really beautiful month for flowers and flowering trees in San Francisco. I will be back to regularly scheduled blogging soon.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Braiding the Storm Available for Pre-Preorder

It’s seems like yesterday was December, me still reeling from the unexpected email from Finishing Line Press. Email subject: “Chapbook Acceptance—Braiding the Storm” and now here I am, five months later and I’m so grateful. For the beautiful cover art. For the time spent reading and writing blurbs. For people who are already buying copies, even though I just announced it today.

The truth is, I’ve known it was available since April 30th, the last day of National Poetry Month. I had finished writing 30 poems in one month and by chance I was browsing the FLP website and saw my name. There was my name, title, next to a little button marked “add to cart” that I tried of course, just to see if I could, in fact, add it to my cart. It worked (though I didn’t buy it). I have a book that people can buy and read. It turns out since my cover artist also designed the front and back cover, FLP decided to put it up early. My official preorder period begins May 29. So you can buy it now on pre-preorder. How ‘bout that?

I’ve been planning the marketing for BtS, so it caught me by surprise that it went up early. On May 1st, I planned to start a countdown to preorders, with a nifty little widget on my blog, building up buzz (or as much buzz as there can be for a little book of poems). I have an author profile on Goodreads and I planned to do a Giveaway (I still do) and I have an interview coming out that I’ve been putting off finishing until the book was available to buy. The interview isn’t ready, no giveaway yet. I didn’t want to send my email blast to the 500+ people mailing list I’ve assembled. I only plan to send two emails – one at the start of the preorders and one a week before it ends – just about five weeks apart, just enough time to not get marked as spam, but not too much time that people will have forgotten about the first email. I decided I wasn’t ready to announce my chapbook yet. I’m going to wait until I’m ready.

I’m sure it sounds like I’m thinking about this too much. I am. But part of me feels like I need to do this, not just for myself, but for other poets for which marketing doesn’t come naturally. I can help other people. They can learn from my experiences, like I have learned so much from other poet who have shared their experiences with me.

But now I think my hesitation has deeper roots. My recently created author profile page on Goodreads has no reviews. Soon it will though, and I have no control over what people say. There is a whole internet out there where people could say things about my chapbook, good and bad. Or worse. They could say nothing. I’m naked now. That's vulnerability is scary.

Because the truth is these poems are very personal. So personal that the poetry I've written for the last year has been mostly fictionalized stories written in the third person. I've only very (very) recently begun to use the "I" in my poems again. But BtS is more than my chapbook to me. It's a symbol of how fucking hard I've worked these past few years. How much I've wanted this life. No matter how hard it gets or how stressed out I am, I still can't believe I get to have poetry in my life everyday. So that's where I am right now. Grateful, yet vulnerable.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Chapbook Rookie: Braiding the Storm Cover Art Revealed!

I'm so excited to finally share my cover art with all of you! I've been collaborating with the amazingly talented Rose Desiano, who took my words and made them a visual feast. I love the whole design, but I'm particularly fond of the thatched leaves and the tape holding down my name in the corner. I could not have imagined this, but I think it really captures the movement and energy of these poems.

I was lucky enough to have Rose create the art and design the layout for my book, both front and back. So some these pretty leaves below will wrap around the spine. One step closer to holding my chapbook in my hands!

Braiding the Storm
is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in September, 2012.

And the Big Poetry Giveaway Winners Are...

Congrats to the winners of my Big Poetry Book Giveaway! This year I had a record 26 entrants. Using a Random Number Generator, I selected the winners to receive the prizes in the order they appeared on the original giveaway post. Without further ado, here's this years winners.

Congrats to Amanda Hash, commenter number 3 and winner of my chapbook, Braiding the Storm (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Amanda will get her copy in September when the book is released.

Congrats to Andrew Ty, commenter number 23 and winner of D. Gilson's forthcoming chapbook Catch & Release (Seven Kitchens Press, 2012). His chapbook should be available in late spring. 

Congrats to Kathleen Kirk, commenter number 10 and winner of the latest issue of Weave

Congrats to Donna Vorreyer, commenter number 4 and winner of the first issue of Adanna