Big News: My First Chapbook Comes out This Summer

You might recall that from time to time over the past year or so, I’ve mentioned that I was having trouble cracking the chapbook nut. Last winter, I put together a manuscript that I really liked, and I kept entering it in various contests, and it kept getting turned down.

One evening in January of this year, I got a phone call. I expected it would be yet another robocall from my kids’ school about an emergency closing due to excessive cold. So I was only half-listening when Gordon Grigsby from Evening Street Press started leaving a message. Wait … what? This is not how rejections usually arrive. I’ve received plenty of rejections in plenty of ways — but never a rejection phone call. So …?

I leaped up, picked up the phone … and accidentally hung up on Gordon. Fortunately, he called right back — with news that my chapbook, Secret Rivers, was the 2013 winner of the Evening Street  Press Helen Kay Chapbook Prize.

The funny thing is, I had just reached a point where I was starting to reevaluate my approach with Secret Rivers. Instead of entering it in contests, should I just focus on trying to find a good publisher for it, even without a prize? I believe I vented about this both here and on Facebook — and I know that a couple of blogger friends said they felt like this would be my year, and a few Facebook friends offered encouragement, one of them saying she had her fingers crossed. And that’s when I got that call.

I waited a while to announce it here because I knew Evening Street Press had plans to announce it as well, and I didn’t want to step on those plans or catch any other entrants by surprise. But now they’ve announced it on their Facebook page and in an ad in the current issue of Poets & Writers, so I’m in the clear.

Seven of the poems will be in the upcoming spring issue of Evening Street Press Review, and the chapbook will be published sometime over the summer (I’ll keep you posted on that). I’m now lining up back-cover blurbs, considering whether I want to thank anyone (how do you choose?), trying to think of a good image for the cover, and steeling myself to have an author photo taken (my best photos are are all cellphone selfies). It’s all really exciting work, and I can’t believe this is happening.

Evening Street Press is such a great fit for Secret Rivers, for a number of reasons. First, it is known not only for its high-quality work and the great care with which it showcases it, but also for its focus on equal rights and social justice, and on spotlighting current barriers to those. When I started writing Secret Rivers, I didn’t intend for it to be a political piece, but the issue of fracking found its way in and then would not be denied.

Another thing I find really satisfying is the “home” connection. I live in Chicago, but I went to high school in a suburb of Columbus, and my dad still lives there. In back-and-forth during the submission process, it came out that Gordon and his wife (and managing editor) Barbara Bergmann live just up the road from my dad. I’ve probably driven right past their house.

Also, Secret Rivers is set in a lightly fictionalized version of Belmont County, Ohio, where fracking is now a huge issue of concern or opportunity — depending on whom you ask. Don’t get me wrong: Evening Street Press is limitless in its geographic scope. In fact, its 2012 Helen Kay prize went to Lynn Veach Sadler’s Mola … Person, which incorporates the anthropology and history of the San Blas islands off Colombia and Panama. Still, I find it so pleasing that my Ohio chapbook ended up coming home to Ohio to be published.

To Evening Street Press, and to anyone who has shared words of encouragement as Secret Rivers struggled to find its home: Thank you! And for anyone else who is trying to place a chapbook and is hanging in there despite rejections: I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and may this be your year, too.


What’s my Next Big Thing? (And what’s yours?)

Many thanks to fabulous poet Jennifer Bullis for tagging me to be part of The Next Big Thing Blog Hop, which means I get to spotlight a current writing project of mine via a series of interview questions. Here’s my Q&A:

1. What is the title of your book? Is it a working title?

My chapbook is called Drivers and Passengers, which is definitely a working title. It expresses the concept, but it might be a little flat. I also have poems in the voice of a cloud and a crow, so I suppose I could be arty and call it Drivers, Passengers, Cloud & Crow (could—but probably will not). I meant to also have the road itself and a hillside, but these didn’t quite come off. If I decide to revisit that idea, I definitely, definitely think I should add those to the title, too. I like to use all the letters! I also briefly considered In Cars—yes, from the Gary Numan song—but it sounds a little too clever to me, and it suggests the ‘80s, whereas the narrative poems in this chapbook are set in the present day.

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?

I’ve attempted chapbooks many times, but it’s always been an after-the-fact deal where I look through poems that I like a lot and try to wrestle them into a theme. I’ve never gotten one published. So this time, I decided to actually follow the advice to write around a fairly focused theme from the outset. We were on a road trip when I began thinking along these lines, and I started to think about all the cars around us and how all the people in them have stories that I’ll never know. That concept has intrigued me ever since I was a kid.

3. Who and/or what inspired you to write your book?

Because these are realistic, narrative poems, I wanted to write about people in cars on an actual road and let some of the geographic details and local issues come into play. We happened to be driving on I-70 in Ohio at the time, in an area where fracking is both a boon to the economy and a concern for the environment. Some of that entered in, and some of the personas borrow from actual viewpoints I’ve heard. I tried to be respectful to everyone and also muddy things a bit so there’s no direct resemblance to any real people I know and love.

4. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Exactly one month, which I think is a great time frame for a chapbook. Between two-pagers and some cases where I wrote two poems in one day, I ended up with just enough extra that I now have the luxury of focusing on what I think are the 24 to 28 best pages. Also, it felt like just enough time to let things develop without getting maybe a little too hung up on the project and unable to put it down.

5. What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. Specifically, narrative persona poetry.

6. What books [I’m going to amend this slightly] would you compare yours to in your chosen genre?

There are so many great persona poems, but the one that first comes to mind is Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess.” I read this in college, and it knocked me on my ear to learn that poems, too, could have unreliable narrators. If you want a concentrated dose of contemporary narrative poetry—some with personas—I recommend Naugatuck River Review (and not just because I was in one issue).

7. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Many people who are not the poet herself drive around and ponder things.

8. Do you have a publisher, or will you self-publish your book or seek representation?

Seeking a publisher, for sure. My plan is to polish this up and enter it in a couple of spring contests.

9. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie or to read your work for a recording?

I’m so bad at this game! I think one of the personas could be played by Channing Tatum if he went kind of down-market (and also didn’t take his shirt off). Leighton Meester could play one of the young women because I understand her upbringing was pretty hardscrabble. Frances McDormand might be in there somewhere, and I’ve seen less “done” photos of Patricia Heaton that remind me of one persona in particular. (You should know, by the way, that other than Frances McD, I first thought of these actors as Magic Mike guy, Gossip Girl … girl, and the lady from Everybody Loves Raymond.)

10. What else about your book might pique readers’ interest?

Watch in wonder as the shape-shifting poet BECOMES MORE THAN TWO DOZEN DIFFERENT PEOPLE!

And now I’m supposed to tag three to five other writers to answer these interview questions next. But … I’ve been asking around and haven’t found anyone who wants to take this on! You should know that: a) the writing can be in any genre, and b) the “book” concept can be loosened so that it applies to any big project you’d like to highlight. Any takers? (Three to five of them, perhaps?) Please let me know in the comments. Thanks!


Two Chapbooks out the Door, Please Don’t Let Me Enter More

I just hit send on my entry for the Dream Horse Press Poetry Chapbook Prize. It wasn’t due until June 30, but it was not good for me to have it hanging around any longer. I needed to clear my plate, and now it’s sparkling clear (of my own work, anyway), and it’s going to stay that way for a while so I can focus on some editing projects.

The other one I entered, just a few days ago, was a chapbook contest from Blue Light Press. If you want to do that one, hurry! The deadline is June 15. I wondered whether my work is their cup of tea, but nothing ventured, nothing gained — and a poem in that manuscript references San Francisco, where they’re based. Meant to be, right?

Good luck if you enter these, or any other chapbook contests … wishing beautiful, tiny books for all!


From Not Entering any Chapbook Contests, to Two in One Month …

… in zero easy steps.

A funny thing happened today while contemplating sealing the deal on a travel-themed chapbook (entries are due June 15 — yikes, I just rediscovered that fact yesterday). Well, the first funny thing is that I don’t at all consider myself to be a writer of travel poetry … but when I sifted through the 60-some poems I wrote in April, I found that many of my favorites were about travel in general or about specific locations.

But what happened today is that I found myself reaching back to a previous idea, which was a chapbook of persona poems. I entered it in one contest last fall, it didn’t win, and I promptly shelved it. But I love persona poems and the energy of writing as someone else for a while. By now, a lot of those poems feel a little stale, and I’ve since written other persona poems that I like better — and that I was sorry to cut because they didn’t fit my travel theme.

Sooooo … now I’m planning to do the one that’s due June 15 and another that’s due June 30. Two things: 1) I believe this gives me a handy carte blanche not to write anything new for a while, other than for Open Link Night, which I enjoy each Tuesday, and 2) I am going to have to speed up my usual process considerably.

What’s my usual process? 1) Print everything — everything — out. 2) Sift through it many, many times to choose the best ones. 3) Look for a theme and regretfully pull out any that don’t fit. 4) Find an order that makes sense. 5) Put the pages together in “spread” fashion — facing each other, that is — so I can see how they might pair in book form. 6) Carry the pages around with me for days on end, rereading, making tiny changes, reprinting, rereading — until I’m so sick of the whole thing that I have to get it out of my house … now.

For my travel-themed one, I added a little something extra to step 6, which was to set aside the whole thing for a few days, only to come back to it and find that my order was all messed up and I had a mixed pile of drafts from various stages. And … this was right before I’d planned to consolidate the whole thing from many files into one. So the order only existed in that hard copy. The good news is, I’m quite sure I didn’t duplicate the previous order — but I actually like the new one better.

What remains for the travel chapbook, which (blessedly) seems to fit the June 15 contest better than the June 30 one, is to pull out two poems that I don’t think work very well and put back in a two-pager that I think is very strong but also very personal and perhaps dangerously honest. I *mostly* think that’s a good decision — and it’s a type of decision I find myself making more and more often.

As for the persona poem one, I suspect I might be surprised by how much work remains. I think there’s a lot that will need to come out — and a lot of new ones to put in. 

So, the travel one is tooth-wigglingly close (my daughter turned 7 yesterday, so this metaphor is very relevant these days), and I have to get it out of my house … if not now, then pretty close to now.

There goes my June … What are you up to?


Everything I Say I Won’t Do, I End up Doing

I talked a good game about not entering the APR Stanley Kunitz contest (poets under 40, you have until May 15 — and they do take electronic submissions). Entered it. Twice.

And now, after I’ve done all this waffling and carping about how I want to do a chapbook but don’t want to enter a contest, here I am trying to choose from among three different ones, all with June deadlines.

Could you help me, please? If you are familiar with any of the following publishers and can share a thought or two in the comments, I’d appreciate it. Criticism is fine, as long as it’s constructive — not looking to slam any publishers here. I will also order a chapbook or two as a sample, but time and money being short, I’d love to narrow it down to two before I start hitting that PayPal button. Anyway, here are the three I’m considering:

Anabiosis Press

Dream Horse Press (scroll down for the chapbook contest)

Blue Light Press

Thank you, thank you …