Welcome To The Writer’s Journey: Mary Mackey On Writing Advice and the Writer’s Life

 Welcome to my blog The Writer’s Journey where, among other things, you will find my monthly People Who Make Books Happen Interview Series and writing advice for writers and teachers of writing.

Read the most recent People Who Make Books Happen interview: Amazon River, Welcome to the Writer's Journey

How Research Transforms Historical Fiction by novelist Dorothy Hearst

 HOW TO FIND POSTS: This blog is indexed to take you straight to the things you want to read. To find a complete list of the  interviews in my People Who Make Books Happen  Interview Series without scrolling through all my posts click here. In addition, if you go to the right hand side of almost any page on my website you will find a Menu labeled TOPICS.  You can click on BRAZIL to see all posts I have written about Brazil, on WRITING ADVICE to see all posts that offer writing advice about things like overcoming writer’s block and digital publishing, and so forth.  Presently the TOPICS Menu offers you direct access to my  posts on the following topics: BRAZIL, DIGITAL PUBLISHING, GODDESSES, PEOPLE WHO MAKE BOOKS HAPPEN INTERVIEW SERIES, THE ENVIRONMENT,  WRITING ADVICE, COMEDY, NEWS, NOVELS, PERSONAL STORIES, POETRY, VIDEOS OF MARY MACKEY and READINGS.

 You’re warmly invited to join in the conversations by posting questions or comments. I love to hear from you.


So Many Ways To Die Here I’ve Lost Track

Travelers With No Ticket Home Porms by Mary MackeyReview of Travelers With No Ticket Home Poems by Mary Mackey

By Joan Gefland, Poetrymagazine.com, Spring 2015

After over twenty-five years of annual expeditions to Brazil, Mary Mackey’s exploration of the Amazon River ecosystem, indigenous cultures, environmental destruction, religious rites, samba, and the teeming streets of Rio remains fresh, insightful, and enlightening.

In her new collection of poetry, Travelers With No Ticket Home, Mackey’s keen eyes scan and inner and outer landscape that merges the rational with the mystical, deconstructing everything from life in the favelas, drug wars, the destruction of the rainforest, the omniscient spirit of nature–both healing and destructive–and her own feelings of displacement, all thrown into stark relief against a throbbing tropical sun and the teeming streets of Rio.

Mackey is a stranger in a strange land that is at the same time hauntingly familiar to her. In the opening poem, “Jacob’s Ladder,” she addresses her Kentucky ancestors, musing on how her travels have changed her way of seeing her place in the world:

“what would they have said/if I had spoken to them in Portuguese?/

dearest aunts/sooner or later/

we all stand at the foot of a ladder that’s missing rungs/

speaking in tongues no one can understand”

The use of internal rhyme in “Jacob’s Ladder” and Mackey’s other poems gives us a resonance of the past with the present, and a hint that after all her years (and mind you, all her books–13 novels and 7 poetry collections) she still struggles to understand and be understood.

Mackey has often said that she sees herself as coming from two poetic traditions: one that takes as its subject the physical world, and one that is mystical and even at times hallucinatory. As a result, her poetry is layered and complex, recording real moments from her own life, yet moving beyond those moments to signs, rituals, and visions that unfold from line to line as she tries to integrate personal meaning with glimpses of something more transcendent.

In “Inquisition,” for example, she speaks of her experience of being ill in the jungle:

“in this land god is a poisonous spider/

the size of a shoe  a lash of fire ants/

a snake with hinged fangs/

do not ask me how I am/

do not ask me if we will survive/

there are so many ways to die here/

I’ve lost track/”

Mackey repeatedly uses metaphor both as a weapon to expose social injustice and a map to explore undiscovered territory. Take for example “The People of Brazil Discover the Portuguese,” in which she imagines the first contact between indigenous Brazilians and the Europeans who sailed into Rio’s Guayanbara Bay on April 1, 1500:

“what is it that comes out of the east/

like a tower of bones/

white with fluttering wings/

larger than the largest bird we have ever seen/

what new plague/

is the wind blowing toward us/”

In almost all the poems, there is a sense of unease: of great beauty and equally great danger; of displacement and grief for the on-going destruction of the natural world that Mackey treasures mixed with her joy that so much of it still survives. In “The Invisible Forests of Amapá,” she combines a list of animals that are threatened with extinction with a rapturous description of the beauty of the rainforest:

“Crested Capuchin, Nectar Bat/

Red-handed Howling Monkey/

Blue-winged Macaw/

great rivers veiled in steam/

sixty billion trees/

reaching toward a sky so green/

it shines like copper/

As she did in her previous collection Sugar Zone (which won the 2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award), Mackey sometimes mixes Portuguese with English, giving these poems a musical quality, yet never going to far as to make them incomprehensible. Again she invokes Solange, that ambiguous, mysterious female figure who first appeared in Sugar Zone and who, Mackey has said, may be a muse, a shaman, a former lover, a guide, a spiritual teacher, her own alter-ego, the unquenchable spirit of the rainforest, or all of these combined. The poems about Solange provide some of Travelers With No Ticket Home’s finest and most poetic moments:

From “Onça Pintada/Painted Tiger”:

“trees and vines are tattooed on her body/

when she moves  they flow across her thighs/

like the Rio Solimões in flood/

Solange who stalks us by day/

Solange who is everything we have destroyed”

The poems in Travelers With No Ticket Home invoke a Brazil that Mackey knows intimately, yet a land that is, in the end, as completely unknowable as the depths of a human soul. Mackey has said she has no plans to stop her journeys, so I suspect we will be hearing more from her about those unexplored lands which like both south of the equator and within us.

Joan Gelfand is the author of the recently published The Long Blue Room (Benicia Literary Arts, 2014), and two other full-length collections of poetry.


Mary Mackey Short Story Prize Awards

Keats for soul making contestSunday, March 29, 2015: Mary will hand out the Mary Mackey Short Story Award prizes to winners at the 23rd annual Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition Award Ceremony. TIME: 1:00 pm. PLACE: Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Public Library Main Branch (Lower Level), 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. This is an Extended Community Arts Outreach Program of the National League of American PEN Woman. Free and open to the public.

How Research Transforms Historical Fiction

Dorothy Hearst Describes How She Came To Love Research

Photo Credit ©ThePetPhotographer.com

Photo Credit ©ThePetPhotographer.com

 Mary: Dorothy Hearst is the author of  The Wolf Chronicles, three novels set in Europe in the Paleolithic Era which narrate how the wolf became the dog from the wolf’s point of view. Like all good historical fiction, Dorothy’s novels demanded a great deal of research. Today Dorothy is going to talk to us about how she went from hating research to loving it.

Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Dorothy. Could you please start by telling us why you decided to write historical fiction?

Dorothy: I was minding my own business the day the wolves barged into my apartment demanding that I write about them. I was thinking about dogs and how amazing it is that we have such a close relationship with them. I had recently read The Botany of Desire in which Michael Pollan discusses plant evolution and its effect on human evolution. That’s when a little voice in my head said: “I want to write about how the wolf evolved into the dog from the wolf’s point of view.” I wrote about ten pages and realized that I knew almost nothing about wolves and even less about ancient times. That’s when I realized that I was going to have a lot of research.

Mary: Were you good at research? Had you been trained in it?

 Dorothy: No, I balked. I’d never been any good at research. I hated it. I thought it was boring and I was no good at it. But wolves can’t type, and they wanted their story told, so I hunkered down and got started.

Mary: What were the most useful resources you came across? In other words, what are some of the best resources for a writer who is researching a historical novel?

Dorothy: The web, of course, is an incredibly valuable research tool. The challenge is vetting the huge amount of information you’ll find online and checking to make sure that what you are reading is true. Libraries are an author’s best friend. Not only do they have books, they often offer access to professional resources like online journal articles that would cost you thousands of dollars to get on your own. Documentaries and Films are another important resource when you’re doing research. The amazing wolf documentaries I watched made it much easier for me to describe wolf life. And then there’s talking to people. One of the best things you can do is talk to really knowledgeable people in writing or over the phone or in person.
Mary: Did you come to like doing research or did you continue to hate it?

Dorothy: To my surprise, I came to love it. It turned out that research was one of the best parts of the writing process. I snow-shoed in Yellowstone, chased huskies in the French Alps, spent hours in wonderful public and university libraries, and walked through a cave where someone had stood 14,000 years ago painting a bison.But what surprised me most was how research shaped my story. It profoundly changed The Wolf Chronicles in several ways.

Mary: How?

Dorothy:  Well to start with, it changed my wolves. Like many people, I used to think that wolves were vicious animals that fought all the time and were very different from us. Books like Richard Busch’s Wolf Almanac showed me that wolves are actually highly social animals that rarely fight. Then I read up on prehistoric cultures, and learned that our ancestors and wolves lived surprisingly similar lives. This changed all the interactions between wolf and human characters, and made my wolf heroine Kaala and her pack much more complex.

Mary: As you know, I also write historical fiction. I often find that research makes my plots more interesting and more complex. Did you have a similar experience?

Dorothy: Yes, research deepened my story immensely. Early on, I learned about wolf-human coevolution, the theory that wolves and dogs may have greatly influenced our evolution. Then, Barry Lopez’s Of Wolves and Men showed me that wolves have long been emblematic of very different views of nature. This research made Kaala’s story more than the tale of a young wolf on a quest. It grew to be about our own connection to the natural world, and what that connection means for our future.

Mary: What other gifts did research offer you?

Dorothy: One of the most important things research did was give me new characters. While reading up on wolves, I learned that wolves and ravens often play together, so I decided to write just one scene with ravens in it. To my surprise the raven Tlitoo decided he wanted a bigger part in the book and became a major character. While on a trip to Yellowstone to watch wolves, I was awakened by a herd of elk bellowing outside my window. That was when Ranor the Elkryn marched into the story.

Research also gave me new scenes. Two scenes in The Wolf Chronicles are drawn directly from wildlife documentaries: the scene in which Kaala and her wolf lover Azzuen cross the Great Plain in Promise of the Wolves and a sabre-tooth cat scene in Spirit of the Wolves.

Mary: How to you feel about research at this point?

Dorothy: I’m hooked on it. In the end, research enriched The Wolf Chronicles in ways I never could have imagined. I am now a dedicated research devotee.

Mary: Does this mean you’ll be writing more historical novels?

Dorothy: Definitely. In fact, I’m researching one right now.

Dorothy Hearst is the author of Promise of the Wolves, Secrets of the Wolves, and Spirit of the Wolvesa trilogy of novels known as The Wolf Chronicles. Before the wolves barged in her door, demanding that their story be told, she was an acquisitions editor at Jossey-Bass, where she published books for nonprofit, public, and social change leaders. She loves dogs but doesn’t have one, and borrows other people’s whenever she gets the chance. After seven years in New York City and nine years as a San Franciscan, Dorothy now lives in Berkeley, California.

Dear Readers: Join this conversation about People Who Make Books Happen. You are warmly invited to ask Dorothy Hearst questions or leave a comment. This is where the experts hang out. For more writing advice, course syllabi, and tips about writing and teaching, visit my Educators Page.



Poetry Party Berkeley Hills

mythos gallery imageThis Saturday you’re invited to come to the Mythos/Hilgard Gallery to hear Mary Mackey read new poems, plus poems from Travelers With No Ticket Home and Sugar Zone, winner of the 2012 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award. Mary will be reading with Native American poet Luke Warm Water. DATE: Saturday March 14, 2015. TIME: 2:30 pm. PLACE: 2725 Hilgard Street at La Vereda Road, Berkeley, CA.

Hot New Books at the Spice Monkey!

CoPandemoniumme to the Spice Monkey Restaurant in Oakland this Wednesday, March 4th, and hear Mary Mackey read her poems in the Pandemonium Press Reading Series “Hot! New Books!.”  Mary will be reading with poets Indigo Moor, Jon Sindell, and Wayne Goodman. There will also be a musical performance by guitarist Hao C. Tran. Curated by Leila Rae, publisher/editor Pandemonium Press. TIME:  6:45  pm to 9:00 pm. PLACE: The Loft at the Spice Monkey Restaurant and Bar, 1628 Webster Street, Oakland (at 17th St, 2 1/2 blocks from the 19th Street BART).  This event is free and open to the public. Sign up for the open mic at pandemoniumpress@gmail.com.

Fabulist Fiction, A New Literary Genre Explained

Omnidawn Publishing Senior Editors Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan discuss Fabulist Fiction

Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan

Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan

Mary: Rusty and Ken, welcome to my People Who Make Books Happen interview series. Could you please begin our conversation by telling us why you decided to to call the work that Omnidawn is publishing “Fabulist Fiction,” and why you thought it was necessary to create this new genre? I’m particularly interested in the history of your decision, since you’ve recognized at least five of my novels, including The Year The Horses Came, as fabulist fiction.

Ken: At present, there are basically three major categories of fiction: genre fiction, literary fiction, and a third type which has had no commonly accepted name. This third type has cultural meaning and artistic value, which means it does not fit well into the escapist formula genres, yet it also has non-realistic elements and settings which exclude it from the category of literary fiction. We knew from the start that we wanted to publish this third type of fiction, but what would we call it?

When we began to consider publishing our first ParaSpheres anthology and were seeking a name for the kind of work we wanted to include in it, we remembered that in the fall of 2002 the literary journal Conjunctions (from Bard College, edited by Brad Morrow) devoted issue number 39 (guest edited by Peter Straub) to what they described as “new wave fabulist writers.” The announcements for Conjunctions: 39  described the issue as including stores from a “small group of innovative writers rooted in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror [who] have been simultaneously exploring and erasing the boundaries of those genres by creating fiction of remarkable depth and power.” To honor Brad Morrow and Peter Straub’s work in bringing attention to this type of fiction, I discussed the value of Conjunctions: 39 in both an editor’s note and a longer essay included in ParaSpheres; and we decided to call the stories in ParaSpheres “Fabulist and New Wave Fabulist.” 

After ParaSpheres, as we’ve continued to publish this kind of fiction, we’ve decided to use the simpler term “Fabulist Fiction,” which in our minds we think of as embracing all the kinds of stories that might erase as well extend the boundaries of “non-realistic artistic fiction.” Although we consider this kind of fiction to meet the broad definition of the term “literary,” we recognize that it does not meet the established narrative realist definition of literary fiction. By presenting this fiction as neither literary fiction nor genre fiction, but rather as something else altogether, we are hoping to redefine it as a new category.

Mary: Why does this new genre need to exist?

Rusty: To put it simply, literary critics serve as defenders of intellectual and artistic values that are relatively free of the profit motivations. There is definite merit in this. But the conventional standards of literary fiction that are applied in order to eliminate escapist fiction also eliminate much serious, thought-provoking fiction that has artistic value. By establishing Fabulist Fiction as a recognized form, which contains both non-realistic elements and artistic and cultural meaning, we hope to bring the serious works in this genre to the attention of readers and critics and to garner writers of Fabulist Fiction the respect they deserve.

 Mary: Could you please give us some examples of works that are Fabulist Fiction?

 Ken: There is a long and illustrious tradition of serious works that can be defined as Fabulist Fiction. Some of the most important include:  Gulliver’s Travels, Candide, Tristam Shandy, Jacques the Fatalist and His Master, Alice in Wonderland, Gershenzon and Ivanov’s Correspondence from Two Corners, Kafka’s The Castle, Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Woolf’s The Waves, Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John, Gombowicz’s Ferdydurke, and Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

 Rusty: Outside the United States, non-realistic work has generally received more recognition. Many non-realistic authors first achieved success outside the U.S. and were later published here. As you may have noticed, all the authors Ken cited above are European, as are Huxley and Orwell. Latin American authors have also received recognition for such work. For example:  Gabriel García Márquez who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 and Jorge Luis Borges who won the French Legion of Honor in 1983. More recently, Yann Martel won England’s Man Booker Prize for Life of Pi. Non-western countries, particularly Japan, also have a long tradition of honoring non-realistic stories.

 Outside academia, a number of small presses and journals have published such fiction for decades, including City Lights, Coffee House, FC2, Dalkey Archive, New Directions, and Sun and Moon (now Green Integer). And within the larger commercial publishing world in the United States, established literary authors like Philip Roth can always get their non-realistic works (e.g. The Plot Against America) published successfully.

 Ken: In the United States, writers almost always stay in the classification in which their work first succeeds. It is simply easier for book buyers to find all the books by a particular author in one section of the bookstore, and for bookstore clerks to know where a particular author’s work can be found; and work that is an attempt to break out will almost always stay in the section with the author’s original books. Because this creates genre “ghettos,” writers who want to be taken seriously generally avoid starting out in genre fiction, and successful literary writers who write genre fiction are often described as “slumming it.” So writers who want to write artistic work are discouraged from starting out with and later experimenting with a style that will be incorrectly classified as genre fiction.

 Rusty: Fortunately, we believe there is increasing interest in what we call “Fabulist Fiction” or fiction that engages the issues we’ve discussed above. We’ve had a Fabulist Fiction Chapbook Contest for a few years (it runs from August 1 to September 30 each year), and we are thrilled by the submissions we receive. There are more universities where such texts are studied and more presses bringing out this kind of work without classifying it as genre fiction. We remain excited by what is possible.

Rusty Morrison and Ken Keegan are senior editors and publishers of  Omnidawn Publishing. Rusty Morrison’s “After Urgency” (Tupelo) won The Dorset Prize. “the true keeps calm biding its story” (Ahsahta) won The Sawtooth Prize, the Academy of American Poet’s James Laughlin Award, the Northern California Book Award, and the DiCastagnola Award from Poetry Society of America. “Whethering” (The Center for Literary Publishing, 2004), won the Colorado Prize for Poetry. “Book of the Given” was published by Noemi Press in 2012. She has received the Bogin, Hemley, Winner, and DiCastagnola Awards from PSA. Her poems and/or essays have appeared, or will appear in A Pubic Space, American Poetry Review, Aufgabe, Boston Review, Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review, Lana Turner, Pleiades, Spoon River, The Volta’s Evening Will Come, VOLT and elsewhere. Her poems have been anthologized in the Norton Postmodern American Poetry 2nd Edition, The Arcadia Project: Postmodern Pastoral, Beauty is a Verb, and The Sonnets: Translating and Rewriting Shakespeare and elsewhere. She has been co-publisher of Omnidawn since 2001. Her most recent collection “Beyond the Chainlink” was published by Ahsahta in January 2014. Ken Keegan has a background in theater, graphic design, desktop publishing, and the founding, management of, and consultation for, non-profit organizations.

Dear Readers: Join this conversation about People Who Make Books Happen. You are warmly invited to ask Keen Keegan or Rusty Morrison questions or leave a comment. This is where the experts hang out.


How To Take A Great Author Photo

Irene-Young-HiRes-sepia-by-Sardi-Klein-NYCPhotographer Irene Young Reveals Her Author Photo Secrets




Mary: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Irene. I’m particularly glad to have an opportunity to interview you because, among other things, you specialize in taking photos of authors which seem to capture their essence. In addition, you’ve photographed musicians for more than 600 CD covers and had four years of training at The Academy of Intuitive Arts.

Mary Mackey Author PhotoThis photo you took of me two years ago is my favorite author photo ever. I freeze up in front of cameras, so usually when someone takes a photo of me, the result looks as if I’m sitting for a mug shot. How do you get your subject to relax? What’s your secret?  

Irene: The short answer is that I know everyone has a beauty about them, and I feel confident that together we will get to the place of its discovery. It’s a process that must be handled lovingly and with great respect. The minute someone enters my studio, (or in your case, the minute you opened your door to me), I know the person can feel my confidence and care. Perhaps, that is what sets people at ease more than anything. There is no judgment or blame in this process. I would never say someone is not photogenic. If I felt I were failing I would say (to myself) “it is more me than them,” and I would find a way to succeed. It is the portrait photographer’s responsibility to guide her subjects to a safe, familiar place within themselves. The author may then exude a confidence in his or her own their identity as an artist – and in what they are offering the viewer at the moment contact with the image is made.

Mary: How do you pose your subjects in ways that will make them look good?

Irene: Every person is different. I have to get into the composition and the comfort of the subject to find their place of power. The best scenario is when you find your spot and I find mine. That is where the magic is found. However, it is my job to bring you to the place of your power.

Mary: You seem to capture the essence of writers’ personalities. How do you do this? Do you read their work beforehand?

Irene: I research the author prior to the shoot. If they are a poet, I will read a few poems. On occasion I will read a bit of fiction or nonfiction, but timing more often than not does not allow for this luxury. I do read people well fairly instantly upon meeting them, perhaps due to my training in the intuitive arts.

Mary: On a more practical note: what’s the best way to present yourself when you’re being photographed? Sitting? Standing up? In profile? Are there colors you should or shouldn’t wear? Make up you should or shouldn’t put on? Ways you should do your hair so you don’t come out looking like a mad scientist?

Irene: One person may find power in standing while another may find it sitting. I try it all. Sometimes people feel less vulnerable if they are sitting first. I ask people to stay away from distracting patterns. You want the eye of the viewer to meet you, not your clothing, though there are power colors such as red, teal, black, and deep grey. It really depends on the person. Everyone has some piece of clothing they feel strength in wearing. I try and start there. In regards to makeup, I caution people about wearing too much, especially for older women. Base can get into the lines in our face and actually make us look older. Then, I have to spend digital darkroom time undoing the makeup. And HAIR! I have learned over these 40 years that I can take the greatest photo in the world, but if you do not like your hair – it’s all over. So, during the shoot, I do ask people to check their hair a few times.

Mary: What are the technical decisions you make as you are taking a photo?

Irene: Lighting, and background. And if we are “on location” rather than in the studio, depth of field places a major role.

Mary: What role does intuition play in your photography?

Irene: Intuition is everything. I feel my way through the entire shoot. There is intention behind everything I do or say, even though it is not obvious. I read every muscle in a person’s face. What is their face saying to the viewer? Will they like what their face is saying at this moment? Shall I click the shutter or guide them to another place? All this is done in a split second with 40 years of practice. I also choose my assistants very carefully. Before each photo session I ask myself if it would be better for me to be alone with the person, or if it is better to have others in the room. Some people need activity. Others need intimacy. If I choose to use an assistant (or if the requirements of the shoot simply dictate one), it is essential that the energy of the assistant and client are compatible. Even better, is if they “click.” The assistant, though, is there to help, and they must do so while understanding the boundaries. I am the skipper, and they are the crew.

Mary: You’ve said that “the key to photographing people is to do so with a wide open aperture of the heart, with no judgment, and with a true belief that everyone is beautiful.” Could you elaborate on this for us. How do you not judge the person you’re photographing? How do you see everyone as beautiful?

Irene: I have often pondered this, and I am not sure I have an answer. I have asked myself “who” decided “what” is beautiful in our culture, and I find it all intriguing. Being magnetic is a real key to beauty – having what I call “an energetic swagger.” Knowing well who we are with a quiet confidence and graceful humility can be quite sexy, don’t you think? So, I guess the answer to your question is that I expand the concept of beauty to be energetic. And I guess I just love exploring people and finding their spark.

Mary: What’s the single most important thing an author must consider when having an author photo taken?

Irene: The photographer! Being photographed is a process. It is not about letting someone take your picture. It is a process where you come to “give it.” Once in a while someone will ask me how long it will take me to take their picture. I answer: “It won’t take me long at all, but the real question is how long will it take for you to give it to me.” And everyone is different. That process must be honored.

Mary: What’s the single most important thing the photographer must consider?

Irene: The photographer must honor the person who is trusting them with their public image. It is not about the ego of the photographer, although I know there will be disagreement here among portrait photographers. I probably would be richer and more famous if I had a bigger ego, and thought it was more about “my work” than the care of the person’s spirit. However, I like the way I work, and think I will stick with it. It works for me.

Mary: You’ve sometimes have donated your work for charitable purposes. Could you please tell us what charities you’ve donated to and what inspired you to do this?

Irene: Two things come to mind: Years ago, when I was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, I produced a CD called Glass Half Full. The musicians are all clients of mine with wonderful songs of comfort and hope. It is currently still selling with $4 per CD being donated to the Breast Cancer Fund. The work of BCF is solely dedicated to “prevention,” and that is where the power of the work lies. “Awareness” is one thing, but the pink ribbon has been commercialized to a point of shame in my estimation, so I prefer to support the work of the Breast Cancer Fund, a national organization based here in the Bay Area.

Secondly, I find myself with a soft spot for older authors and poets trying to stay afloat on a fixed income in this modern technological world. I am fortunate to also be a web designer, thus, tech savvy to a decent degree. My long-time design partner, Carol Ehrlich, and I both love empowering older writers and artists with tools to help support their genius in the modern world. That is definitely worthy of attention. There is a blog post on my website called, If a Tree Falls in a Forest, and No One Is Around to Post it on Facebook, Does it Make a Sound? I think it is important to remember the invaluable contributions of the “more experienced generation.”

Mary: Before you go, please give us some examples of your favorite author photos and tell us why you like them.

Irene: This is tough. Forty years makes for a lot of photos. I have a bit of the shoemaker’s children syndrome. I am so busy creating for others that I do not attend to my own portfolio and/or retrospectives of my work.


I love the work I have done with Susan Griffin because I hold her genius in high esteem. Ann Jones because I can’t believe she has had the guts to live so much of her life in conflict zones.I love the shots of Nan Geffen and Sandy Boucher, Daniel Polikoff. And what fun with Jewelle Gomez! And imagine Caroline Casey! The genius of Judy Grahn. I love the writing of Alexis Masters. Chana Wilson was beautiful to photograph. And, of course, the magic of Mary Mackey! The important work of Joan Lester. And playwright, Heather Raffo is quite stunning to photograph. And a fave poet, Ellen Bass! This week I had the pleasure of working with two authors: Sandra Butler and Patricia Garfield. And soon I will get out images from the early years of Geneen Roth, Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks, Neal Barnard, etc. I am better known for photographing musicians, but I do truly love photographing authors. This week Ireland’s Queen of Music, Mary Black, released her autobiography and I am thrilled she used a photo of mine on the cover. That is a nice blend of genres.

Chana-Wilson_by-Irene-YoungRedwing-Keyssar_by-Irene-YoungPoet-Ellen-Bass_by-Irene-YoungPatricia-Garfield_Creative-Dreaming_photo-by-Irene-YoungNan-Geffen-by-Irene-YoungMARY BLACK_Bk-Cov-photo-by-Irene-Young

I love this new photo of NYC writer Virginia Bell. She has been a columnist for The Huffington Post for many years writing about The Second Half of Life and also Astrology.

Virginia Bell photo by Irene Young

When I began my career in The West Village in New York City, I knew Tom Victor who was widely known for his work with well known authors. We each had our specialties, but I always admired the simplicity of Tom’s amazing photography. He was working with one person at a time, while I was living the night life, meeting and photographing one to six people at a time! One person and a simple beautiful concept is so lovely compared to the production of a CD cover! I love them both for different reasons. I love it all. I have a license to stare, admire, appreciate, direct, and in the end – make people happy with their own image. All in all, not a bad way to go through life.

You are warmly invited to join this conversation about People Who Make Books Happen, ask Irene Young questions, or leave a comment. See the other interviews in this series for information about How To Get An Agent, How To Design A Book Cover That Sells Books,  Helping Independent Bookstores Survive and Thrive, Three Great Reasons To Still Print On Paper, Designing Websites For Writers, Best-selling author Ellen Sussman on Surviving Rejection, and more. This is where the experts hang out.

And remember to come back next month to read the another great interview in the People Who Make Books Happen series.

Great Weather for MEDIA Press Does More For Authors

 An Interview With Great Weather for MEDIA Editor Jane Ormerod

Jane Ormerod at Inspired Word by jay Franco(1)Jane Ormerod is a founding editor at great weather for MEDIA, an independent press focusing on edgy and experimental poetry and prose. She is the author of Welcome to the Museum of Cattle (Three Rooms Press, 2012), Recreational Vehicles on Fire (Three Rooms Press, 2009), the chapbook 11 Films (Modern Metrics/EXOT Books, 2008), and the spoken word CD Nashville Invades Manhattan.

Jane’s work also appears in numerous US and international anthologies and journals including Have a Nice NYC (Three Rooms Press, 2012), Maintenant, AND / OR, Marsh Hawk Press Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ambush Review, and Sparring with Beatnik Ghosts. Born on the south coast of England, Jane now lives in New York City and performs extensively across the United States and beyond.

Mary: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Jane. Great Weather for MEDIA does more for its authors than any independent press I’ve encountered—including maintaining an online blog, running a reading series, publishing collections of poetry, putting out a print-on-paper anthology each year, and arranging a nation-wide reading tour for the writers included the yearly anthologies. Please give us some background. Why did you decide to found Great Weather for MEDIA? When and where was the press founded? Was this a collective effort, or was one person the driving force?

Jane: Great weather for MEDIA was formed in January 2012, so we’re approaching our third birthday! Thomas Fucaloro, Brant Lyon, and myself were editors at another small press and wanted to start something on a larger scale that involved prose as well as poetry, arranging more mixed-media events, and also to include international submissions for our anthologies. Shortly after, George Wallace joined the editorial team. We also have the very hardworking Peter Darrell behind the scenes in charge of non-editorial work.

Mary: Tell us about those early days. What difficulties did you encounter?

Jane: Well, the huge shock was Brant passing away in May 2012. That was a deeply distressing time. Brant read the majority of submissions for our first anthology, It’s Animal but Merciful, and the book is dedicated to him. (The title is taken from one of his poems too.) After we chose the cover photograph, we realized it showed graffiti outside one of his favorite restaurants.

It's Animal But Merciful, great weather for MEDIA press

Mary: How have things changed since then?

Jane: Russ Green and David Lawton joined the team so we now have five poetry editors. After the first year, we decided on a guest prose editor for each anthology—this year it’s Chavisa Woods. Also we have started publishing single poet collections. 2014 heralded the arrival of Puma Perl’s Retrograde and Aimee Herman’s meant to wake up feeling. What else? Well, great weather for MEDIA continues to arrange events everywhere. We are based in New York City but we organize shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New Orleans, to name just a few. In October this year we hosted a musical evening with the legendary jazz poet and activist John Sinclair. Book fairs too—find us at the Brooklyn Book Festival, NYC’s Rainbow Book Fair, and PHILALALIA in Philadelphia.

Mary: You open submissions once a year for your anthologies. How many submissions do you receive? Who submits work to you? Where do these writers come from?

Jane: In our first year great weather received about 500 submissions and they have ridden rapidly ever since. Our submission period runs October 15 to January 15 every year. 2014-15 is the first time we’ve used Submittable which is proving to be very efficient for editors and writers. We get submissions from unpublished writers and those whose bios contain every big name journal over a fifty-year career. All submissions are treated the same. During the past three years, we’ve published writers from Botswana, the Philippines, Barbados, Canada, and several European countries. Discovering new voices is a real thrill. Click here if you’d like to submit something to us.

Mary: Your motto is “out of the mainstream and away from the tributaries.” You’ve said that you focus on “the unpredictable, the fearless, the bright, the dark, and the innovative.”  How does this influence your choices? In other words, what are you looking for?  

Jane: Like most editors, we love receiving work that surprises us whether it’s language, narrative, subject, or imagery. We love the experimental and ambitious. Obviously some work is immediate, other pieces are more subtle. All the great weather editors are writers themselves and we differ in styles and in our personal author and poet favorites. Sometimes it is easier to say what we don’t like. In general we avoid haikus, archaic “poetic” language, limericks… It really is best for writers to check out what we do before submitting. We don’t publish themed collections—we love a mix. We understand the odd typo but please review your work well before sending. And remember, a thirty page epic poem is unlikely to be accepted for an anthology!

Mary: Why did you decide to publish the anthologies as print-on-paper instead of in digital form?

Jane: Our anthologies are a generously-sized 9.25 x 7.5. This provides plenty of room for visually experimental work and plenty of beautiful white space to show off more traditional formats. We really do pay a lot of attention to design and graphics. Each anthology has over sixty contributors, plus an interview – too much for an online anthology. Paper allows the reader to dip in and out and to appreciate the anthology as a single and intriguing identity.

Mary: Tell us about your latest anthology I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand.

I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand, Great Weather for MEDIA press

Jane: I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand is a dynamic collection of contemporary poetry and short fiction by established and emerging writers from all across the United States, Denmark, Sweden, England, and France—all taken from open submission. We are very proud to include an interview between David Lawton and John Sinclair, plus an unpublished poem of John’s. Although our anthologies are never themed, the feel of this book is a strange mix of tenderness, fear, and worlds beyond our own.

Mary: What’s the significance of the title?

Jane: We love using unusual title for our collections. It’s Animal but Merciful was followed by The Understanding between Foxes and Light. I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand is the title of an artwork/poem by one of our contributors, Janne Karlsson from Sweden. The cover is an adapted close-up of his work inside the book.

Mary: What has inspired you to arrange a nation-wide reading tour for all the authors who appear in your anthologies? It must take a huge amount of work to set up these readings.

Jane: Ha! Yes, it is a lot of work coordinating a tour, getting the dates to fit together and the cities in a logical order e.g. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle. To be clear, we book events in the areas where we have several contributors so not everyone in the book can get to participate in the reading. And of course writers often have friends or family in certain cities and ask if they can perform there. It’s terrific hearing and meeting poets after looking at their words so long on the page. Great weather for MEDIA is really about building community. Introducing writers from the same city who were unaware of each other’s work. Some of contributors run their own reading series and so discover new writers to feature.

Mary: Every Sunday (4-6 ) you host a reading at the Parkside Lounge in New York City. Who curates these reading? How do you select your featured readers?

Jane: Thomas Fucaloro, David Lawton, George Wallace, and Russ Green curate and host the reading series. With a different host each week, we get a wonderful mix of local and visiting poets. Sometimes we give a poet their first ever feature, other times we have established writers and performers such as Ellen Bass, Luis Bernard, and Jesús Papoleto Meléndez. Recently we’ve showcased Rich Ferguson (Los Angeles), Joan Gelfand (San Francisco), Christine Tierney (Boston), and Todd Anderson, Jeanann Verlee, and Corinna Bain from NYC. With two features each week, it’s nice to mix things up and find performers to contrast or complement one other.

Mary: As I recall, there’s always an open mic at the Parkside. What surprises has it offered?

Jane: We have surprises every week! That’s the joy of open mics, you never know who is coming through the door. One of regulars travels up by bus from Philadelphia—that’s a real thumbs up to what we are doing. Poets who have never read on stage before and come out with something beautiful. Slam artists mixing with storytellers. We’ve had cats and dogs make an appearance. And of course the odd drunk or crazy just to keep it real. Any style of poetry is welcome on the open mic and we’re a friendly bunch.

Mary: Recently you’ve begun to publish collections of work by individual writers? Who have you published so far? What plans do you have for future publications?

Jane: 2014 marked the publication of Retrograde by Puma Perl and meant to wake up feeling by Aimee Herman. All of us are incredibly proud of these books. Corrina Bain’s collection is due spring 2015, and stay tuned to what else is coming up next year.

Mary: Before you go, please tell us about your own poetry. How did you become a poet? What are you trying to do in your poems?

Jane: I began as a painter. I went to art school in London, left, and had a studio. My work increasingly contained words and phrases so it was a natural progression to switch from canvas to paper. It’s a long story but the final jump came a result of a bet. I could never paint as well as I wanted to in order to express my ideas. Poetry is equally as frustrating – as it should be – but I feel my visual eye is a better fit to words, and the shape and sound of words, than pigment. Live performance is a vital aspect too.

Mary: Please leave us with one of your poems.

Jane:  Here is “Witness for the Prosecution”:


                                                                                                             Witness for the Prosecution

I see power leaning. An international success. Sunshine appreciating the mouth. The mouth touching the after-hours. The blabber. This room wretched.

Excellent deprive excellent reprieve excellent deprive.

No, no. Vole. I see power broken into able recommendation. I see motor servicing, out-of-action toys, tantrums and tambourines, electric drifts, a birthday spent window shopping, a daring and extravagant hat, ha ha ha ribbon frippery. An egg beating. Play canasta, munch a sandwich. Lonely, alive, bad it looked. It, it. Deceiving to believe it was Moriarty. Handsome Moriarty. Walking a dog named fortitude. “Before” is precise. Rubble is tiring. I know, or want to know, too much protection. Fortitude is not lost or misplaced. Fortitude is here among us, among us all, is a toe stub against what we thought was a shaft of sun and instead was a cylinder containing pots of simple apple jelly.

Is getting better. Is getting better. Is a field. Is buying marmalade on installment. Finding a legal document in a jack-in-a-box. The room is brave. Cocoa is brandy. Body temperature is instantaneous. The room is surprised. Is much better. It has appearance. Has clasp. O is O. There is no wiggle. The O is a jacket. Is withdrawn. Is patterned. Is absent-minded and stopped often by the military and those thrusting lucky heather. The other is arranged, is near. This candor, this leap?

This leap is finished. The voices are oak. Able to comment on rubble now. Able to speak what is worth. The lack of only a name to withstand. Blue skies are facts of words only. Boat is open-sided. Boat is slut. Blues skies a fact of warning only. The last is life inside a pill. Trains commence. I am good for another. The letter is guilt. Is cash. Is hearing. Is hearing the now and again back to back rather than to and fro.

You are warmly invited to join this conversation about People Who Make Books Happen, ask Jane Ormerod questions, or leave a comment. See the other interviews in this series for information about How To Get An Agent, How To Design A Book Cover That Sells Books,  Helping Independent Bookstores Survive and Thrive, Three Great Reasons To Still Print On Paper, Designing Websites For Writers, Best-selling author Ellen Sussman on Surviving Rejection, and more. People Who Make Books Happen is where the experts hang out.

Mutiny Radio and Beatnick Ghosts

Turn your radios on this Friday and Mutiny with Pirate Cat! Mary Mackey and 7 other Sparring With Beatnick Ghosts poets will be reading on Diamond Dave’s show on  mutiny radioPirate Cat Mutiny Radio at 3:00 pm on December Friday 12th. You can catch it live or later at mutinyradio.org. Remember “Mutiny Radio is Pirate Cat Radio’s nonstop punk rock radio station!

Poet Daniel Lawless On How To Edit An Anthology of Poetry

Daniel Lawless, Poet and Editor of Plume Magazine, Talks About Editing The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013

Danny Lawless Plume MagazineMary: Welcome to People Who Make Books Happen, Danny. In just a few years, Plume has become one of the most respected and influential on-line poetry journals. You recently edited The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013, a beautifully conceived and executed treasure-trove of poems by 130 poets including Diane Wakoski, Sharon Olds, Alan Shapiro, Lyn Lifshin, Norman Dubie, Billy Collins, Andrei Codrescu, and Gaius Valerius Catullus. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that three of my poems also appear in this anthology, which is a real honor. I’ve never been in an anthology with Catullus before.

I’d like to talk to you about how you go about editing an anthology and what criteria you use for selecting the poems. Could you please start by telling us how The Plume Anthology 2013 differs from the other poetry anthologies we see coming out almost weekly?

Danny:  Assuming the quality of the poems to be roughly equivalent, it really only differs in one substantial way. Unlike many anthologies, The Plume Anthology 2013 is un-themed.  This probably is both good and bad. Good, in that the quality of work is the sole criterion for inclusion, opening the doors for eclecticism that much wider. Bad, for approximately the same reason: a theme can be a useful guide, a kind of  governor, or a funnel,  making the editing process that much more streamlined — and perhaps for a certain reader, richer.   

Mary:  Did you ask for submissions or was this anthology by invitation only?

Danny: With the first anthology (The Plume Anthology of Poetry 2012), submissions were culled from the previous months’ work. We had so little time – or experience, or the slightest notion that this first Plume would actually work, so by necessity we published essentially what we already had run online, with, oh, perhaps 15% new work. There was a fine Featured Selection with Dutch poet M. Vasalis, translated byDavid Young and Fred Lessing, and a splendid and gracious forward from Ron Slate. I was surprised anyone bought it – but they did.

Mary: I’m not surprised. Plume 2012 was an amazing anthology filled with great poetry. How did you go about choosing the poets for the 2013 Plume?

Plume Anthology of Poetry 2013Danny: For the 2013 and the upcoming 2014 anthologies, I chose poets whose work I like a lot and asked them to submit a small batch of work, from which I would select two poems – one for online, one for the print anthology. This comprised most of the current anthology and will be the case in the 2014 anthology.  The remainder of the poems came from and will come from unsolicited submissions via the Submishmash system.

Mary: What criteria did you use to select the poems?

 Danny: I was afraid you would ask this, Mary. Plume is pretty much a one-man show. Our “staff” as noted on the site is largely uninvolved in the editing process — albeit indispensable in interviews, layout, distribution, PR, and such.  Which is to say that I alone select the poems both for the web and print venues. Plume grew out of my own reading over – god, forty-five years. My tastes have gradually revealed themselves, I suppose, and they alone are the criteria for selecting poems to appear in Plume

I fell hard for the Surrealists in my teens, and I have remained something of a Francophile ever since. The magazine reflects that enamorment, I’m sure.  I read a lot of work in translation in those days: Bly, Michael Benedikt, Richard Howard, Marilyn Hacker. And the poetry in translation had a certain “flat” quality I assumed was reflective of the actual work, which I was and remain drawn to, and which I discovered, when I learned to read French, was not at all the case: I was vastly disappointed in the originals!

Soon enough though, I started reading Barthes and Derrida and Foucault and the sublime and hilarious Cioran – my favorite writer, to this day.  Later came the South Americans – Parra was a revelation — and finally the British (Larkin!) and Americans, via the Beats at first.  So, you see, a circuitous route – a reading by feel, intuition, allusion.

Dennis Nukse and I have talked a little about this – the paths we took in our reading are similar, and I think a number of people in the vicinity of our ages (he’s younger than I,  no doubt)  followed approximately the same route, somehow.  Not the way an MFA candidate would have approached reading (I don’t have an MFA), I don’t think–not the way it’s done today, anyway.  

So Plume is a way of relocating or maintaining that path, while opening up new branches of it. The Prévert line as a motto which appears on the Plume Magazine website–“for those who loved it, the garden remains open” –is a direct allusion to that.  And so is the logo – the skeletal bird and the new feather. 

Mary: You’ve even left the Prévert quote in French on the Plume website: “ Le jardin reste ouvert à ceux qui l’ont aimé .”

Danny:  Yes, but to answer your question about the criteria for selection more directly: Our mission statement says something about this: “the fineness of language, the huge absences to which it points and partakes of, and the urgency and permanence of its state of departure – the coattails forever—just now – disappearing around the corner.” Not sure if that makes sense, but I know it when I see it, as they say. The image counts for a great deal with me, the sense of the uncanny, the just-so word choice; less so the narrative. (Although as soon as I say this, I think of ten narrative poems I adore.)  

Mary: What qualities in a poem immediately attract you? What qualities immediately put you off?

Danny: As I said, I am drawn to the arresting image first – thanks to the Surrealists, surely. I am impatient with poems that dawdle: the poet willing to spend ten even twenty lines to get to that image, that lineTweet to that he or she hopes, I think, will be worth the candle. That “flatness,” too, is a quality I still find attractive: the mater-of-factness of a Ponge or Michaux, even Russell Edson — appeals. But also the leaps—to use a Bly-ian term – of a Follain. If I can find that in a modern poem, I am very happy.

 How can one say it? Overly, or self-consciously “poetic” language is off-putting. Definitely, I could bear not reading another poem about childhood violence or politics. Not much interested in gardening or the names of flora or fauna or poems-about-poems. And there is something to be said for the short poem – Simic is a master, for example. I love the aphorists: Cioran, as noted, but also James Richardson of late. I am drawn to the eastern Europeans these days, too. And the work of East Asians poets — astounding. Plume has run translations in every issue since its inception, often more than one, and I feel sure this will continue.

Mary:  Is editing an anthology of poetry different from editing a poetry magazine?

Danny: No, not really.  The process of selection is the same: my tastes. True, editing an issue is a more intimate experience: one of the blurbs for the 2013 anthology remarked on the surprising “neighborhoods” of poems in the online venue.  I loved that – analogous to the image, the “rubbing up against” each other of words that make a remarkable image in a poem, writ large in an issue of twelve poems, where the poems themselves rub against one another, chafe, spark…each informing the others, expanding their meanings and contexts, deepening the reading experience: getting to know one another, as neighbors might.

The online issues represent, I hope, a clearly curatorial intent – to use the current buzzword. In the anthology, one is dealing with so many poems, that intimacy can be lost in, or mitigated by, the relative distance of one poem from its natural companions: the difference between seeing a show in some dive or boîte and in an arena, perhaps. The scale of the anthology seems to work against this. Even though  the order of poems in both the online issues and the anthology is alphabetical, the twelve poems in the issues still can seem of a piece, I think – not quite so in the 70+ poems in the anthologies.

Mary: Many anthologies are collections of a particular school of poetry—Language Poetry, for example. Why did you decide to include such a wide range of poetic forms?  How did you make sure this happened?

Mary: Here, I’ll quote another blurb, forgive me, from Jeff Skinner: “…Plume establishes its place on the literary scene somewhere above fashion, apart from all questions of Hipster vs. . . . Whatever.” If I could have chosen any description of what I was after, this is it. I wanted Plume to be outside the “aesthetic axe-grinding” as someone else notes, removed from the narrow confines of that little street, and allow the poetry to speak for itself.  The best poetry rarely represents an idea, a stance, a school, and god forbid wants to teach its readers.  

So the poems in the issues of the magazine and the poems in the anthology are those I like: quite simple. I made sure it happened by both carefully scouring the unsolicited submissions and asking for work from a wide range of poets whose poems I have admired, and since my own my tastes are eclectic, this has resulted in what you see in Plume.  Not to forget: as these tastes evolve, that, too, will be reflected in the journal. 

For instance, African-American poetry has been under-represented in Plume, I know, and I am making a conscious effort to address that, reaching out to various poets and organizations, with some success.  Martha Collins has a thousand and one contacts with African-American poets, which has been a help, too.  The work has been an eye-opener – long overdue. You’ll see more from poets of color in future issues, I’m certain.  Fortunately, I don’t need to make money from Plume – not that I ever expected to, and this allows me the great freedom of publishing only those poems I love. Had I to consider selling the thing, I’m sure it would be very different, and that I wouldn’t like it all.

Mary: Why did you decide to arrange the poems alphabetically by the authors’ last names?

Danny: Good question. I’m not sure how or why this happened.  The easy answer is that, with their work presented alphabetically by last name, poets won’t feel part of some established hierarchy, however unintended that might be. And I think they would feel that: — we poets are generally a sensitive lot, aren’t we? Also, there’s the ease of locating a particular poet – the finger slides to him or her almost without thought. 

But I am wondering, now, if that is sufficient reason to forgo the pleasures of creating those “neighborhoods” alluded to above – sacrificing the way poems “call to one another” as Vila-Matas observes.  Perhaps the next anthology will be more like the online issues, but a kind of city, the breadth of which the reader might stroll as she will, one day here and the next there, never quite sure when she has crossed some invisible boundary or other but discovering for herself – and identifying for herself – just where she is.

Mary:  I love that image of strolling through a City of Poetry. Could you tell us what in general are the best and worst things about being an editor of an anthology?

Danny: Like many things, the best is beheld in the rear-view.  It’s a joy, believe me –oh,  you know this, Mary–to hold in one’s hands the completed project, the physical object that had for so long remained merely a possibility, a notion, a progression of tasks. I like very much the correspondence with poets, too. I think I have become friends, if I can use that term for people I have never met except on the page or the screen, with some – people of like mind, which I don’t often get to do in life lived in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

I have had very, very few unpleasant experiences with contributors: in fact, none come to mind. Universally a kind and generous bunch, especially given the smallness of Plume, its newness, its many much more established and worthy relatives. Honestly, I am not sure at all why these poets do send their work to us. Better not to inquire, though: as Simic writes somewhere: “don’t wake the damn cards.”

The worst is everything else.  Printing, PR, contacts, agents, permission letters, all a pain in the ass. Again, I’m thankful for the Plume “staff.”

Mary: Are there any tips you can give someone who is planning to edit an anthology?

Danny: Don’t do it! No, do it, but only because you want to, or must. Or because Catullus has a hold on you.

Daniel Lawless founded and edits the online monthly Plume: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and the annual print Plume Anthology of Poetry. His recent poems appear in Cortland Review, Meadow, The Louisville Review, Pif, Adirondack Review, and elsewhere.

Dear Readers: Join this conversation about People Who Make Books Happen. You are warmly invited to ask Daniel Lawless questions or leave a comment. This is where the experts hang out.