But I have an ISBN! Chapbooks and the Imposter Syndrome

As you might have heard a bajillion times, my first chapbook has now been published by Evening Street Press, and I’m really excited about it.


If you’re a poet yourself, maybe you’ve read some things about chapbooks and how tough they are to place in bookstores because most bookstores really, really hate them. I didn’t want this to be true — but I’m finding it to be pretty true so far.

Likewise, I don’t know what I thought would happen when I opened my box of author copies. Maybe something like that scene in Pulp Fiction when they open the briefcase or whatever it is, and there’s a mysterious, almost celestial glow?

I guess I expected some type of self-validation, like the song in the Tony Randall movie Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? that repeats over and over that the main character has “got it made!” and just what a swell, successful guy he is.

Did I think I would no longer be as conscious of the fact that I lack an MFA, and that I am trying to combine my artistic life with a boatload of other stuff? Was finally getting a chapbook published going to put an end to my tendency to compare myself against others — to read contributors’ bios and imagine my fellow poets ensconced in their bookshelf-lined writing rooms or on rustic and deeply fulfilling sabbaticals when they’re not igniting the fire for the next generation of creative young minds? (I know, I know … my fantasy probably does not equal many creative academics’ reality.)

The truth is, whatever level of success I (and perhaps you, too) achieve with my writing, there will always be someone who’s doing more. Oh, look — I have a chapbook, but this other person has a book. Like, a full-on, 60-page book. It’s not much thicker than my chapbook, but there it is. It’s on the shelf right in front of me, in fact — because books do get on bookstore shelves. So what I really need to do is … get a book published. And that’s when I’ll feel like a real poet. Right?

Oh, imposter syndrome, I know you from so many other parts of my life, and yet you always seem so true.

So, how do I get out of this funk and back to being over-the-moon ecstatic about this great thing that has happened, this wonderful gift that I should never take for granted or downplay to myself? How can I quit — just for a little while — looking ahead to the next hurdle and the next and the next? That’s the million-dollar question right there. All I can say is stay tuned.

And if you’ve ever felt this way, too — that some other writer has achieved x, y, and z and is therefore “the real deal,” that there’s some magic something that they have and you don’t … just know that you’re not alone. This may be, in fact, as much a part of many creative writers’ lives as SASEs and submission fees. Maybe the key is to acknowledge that and just keep pushing forward.

(Note: I’m not putting in any links because I just want to get this out, but I encourage you to Google or YouTube both film references and “imposter syndrome,” and … OK, I can’t resist this one link, in case you don’t know the deal about my chapbook, and this other one because Evening Street Press deserves to be recognized.)


My First Chapbook Is Here!




It’s sitting right next to me on the couch, in fact. Shouldn’t it be next to you — or in your hot little hands? Here are a few ways you can make that happen:

  1. Order it from the fabulous Evening Street Press (where you should also order some of the other chapbooks, and their Review),
  2. Order it from Amazon, or
  3. Email me here: marilyn [dot] cavicchia [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you go for option #3, I’ll even autograph it for you — for FREE. I’ll spring for the postage, too, and then at some point, you mail me $10.

What sort of poetry is in Secret Rivers? It’s made up of persona poems in which the speakers are either driving or riding in vehicles on a particular stretch of highway in Ohio. I didn’t start out with any particular intention, but because of the area I was describing, a narrative thread emerged that deals with fracking (hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas). My opinions of this practice are probably clear, but I tried to be balanced and respectful, and to let all my personas have their say — whether they agree with me or not.

I hope you’ll enjoy Secret Rivers. And if you happen to live in Chicago or Columbus, watch this space for news about upcoming readings.






Advice: How Do You Promote a Chapbook?

So, any day now (well, probably around June 1), my chapbook Secret Rivers will come out, from the fabulous Evening Street Press. (Oh, hey, and it’s available for preorder there.) From any of you who have done one of these before, I could use some promotion tips. I don’t want it to just lie there, but here’s the thing: I’m reeeeeally introverted and not given to self-promotion — despite all my blah-blah here and on Facebook and Twitter. Do I walk into my neighborhood bookstore and ask them to stock a few, or is this just “not done” — like, so “not done” that I’ll be laughed out of the store? Not really … but you know what I mean.

Also, I could swear I saw something here on WordPress about bloggers who are authors with things currently out. Does anyone know what I mean, and how I go about telling them, “Me, too?” Also, here is a stupid WordPress question that might vary a lot depending on what theme you use: How do I put the cover image somewhere on my blog, with info on how to order, so that it lives there until I decide it’s no longer needed? (Which would be “never,” or until it sells out — whichever comes first.)

I know I need to line up a reading or two — and this will involve (erk) talking to people and asking if I can do this at their space. I’m on this part. Sort of.

But I keep thinking that there may be other great ways to promote a chapbook, and I’m just not thinking of them. I do not want to fall down in the hustle department. So … How do you promote a chapbook, anyway? Thanks for any ideas!


Will 2014 Be the Year I Solve My Chapbook Problem?

So, I’m ending this year feeling a little bit like I’m spinning my wheels. I spent a long time earlier in the year working on a chapbook and then entering it in a bunch of contests because I really wanted to accomplish that before going back to submitting individual pieces.

But …

Then a long time passed and nothing happened (yet — I think it’s still out at a couple of places. Wait, “think?” —  Yep. We’re dealing in pretty high volume here, and I have zero belief that two publishers will say yes to it, but if that does happen, I’ll cross that happy bridge when I come to it. But yes, you’re right, I should absolutely retrace my steps and figure out where all I sent it, lest some type of Three’s Company-type slapstick disaster occur).

Anyway, then it started to feel as if maybe my prior moderate success with individual poems was a fluke, would never happen again, etc., etc. The more time went by, the more that seemed to be true. Don’t get me wrong — I do (mostly) enjoy the creative process for its own sake, but I really like the submitting, publishing, “Ah, here’s my contributor’s copy!” part, too.

So I got busy with Duotrope and submitted many, many poems and enjoyed decent success with those. I had poems accepted by several great publications (which I will resume telling you about *soon*), met lots of nice people online and in person, and was really excited and pleased. And still am — and grateful, too.

But here I am again, in Chapbookland. Or Nochapbookland. I have a manuscript that I like a lot, and I keep thinking that someone else might like it a lot, too — but I can’t seem to connect with the right publisher.

I’m thinking it doesn’t help that the manuscript is made up of persona poems with a pretty strong narrative thread. When I inevitably get the “you didn’t win, but here’s who did” notice, the winning piece often seems to be about, say, the passage of time on a farm, sharpening the saw blades in the weathered, old shed where Dad once skinned a live deer because that’s what you have to do sometimes. You get me? A rural, beautiful, kind-of-disturbing-in-parts recounting of personal experience. There are spikes of narrative here and there, but the writing is mostly lyrical.

I admire things like that, don’t get me wrong — I just can’t write them.

So … any thoughts on how to crack this nut? Am I entering all the wrong contests? Should I let go of the contest thing (and the prospect of prize money) and just focus on finding the right match?

If you’ve done a chapbook, how did you find your publisher, and how did you know it was a good fit? (And no, I really don’t want to self-publish. I know, I know … but I just don’t.)

Many thanks, and whatever your writing goal is, I hope 2014 is the year you reach it!




Publication Spotlight: Graze

Here is the second in a series of posts in which I call your attention to some great publications (that happened to publish something of mine). This time, we’re taking a moment to appreciate Graze.

Graze is shaaaaaaarrrp. And food-themed. And on paper, bless them (fingers crossed there, because I have been in two publications’ final print issues now, and—great as online publications can be—I don’t want to kill another beautiful, tangible object).

From a tongue-in-cheek but informative gardening how-to for old punks (“Suddenly, you question your plan to wing it and let nature take its course. And you do have a life outside of this freaking garden. You have protest concerts to organize and a cellar full of punk rock anthology cassette tapes to transfer over to MP3.”) to a poem about an eight-sided taco truck on a vague mission of vengeance (oh, hey, I wrote that one), Graze’s Issue Four has something for everyone.

Graze is an incredible labor of love by publishers Cyndi Fecher and Brian J. Solem, along with their art director and associate editor. Everything about it is so crisp and professional, so buttoned-up and perfect (but still very fun—don’t get me wrong), you’d think it has at least double that staff and is being hosed down with sweet, plentiful creative writing MFA program money.

But in fact, it seems to just run on the energy of its publishers and staff. And donations, subscriptions, and single-copy sales. (By the way, you can also buy Graze at many independent bookstores across the country.)

If you live in Chicago, lucky you! Graze hosts a lot of great events pertaining to its food-and-drink theme, as well as music. You can also keep up with those via Facebook and Twitter. I happen to know—from the Issue Four release, which involved bands, DJs, costumes, and a drink or three—that Graze throws a great party.

Wherever you are, please enjoy—and help feed—Graze! (And if you’d love to be part of Issue Five, submissions are open for written work until December 20, 2013, and for visual work until January 20, 2014.)


Previously in this series: Hobo Camp Review.
Next up: Fickle Muses.


Publication Spotlight: Hobo Camp Review

I’ve had a pretty good few months, submission-wise, and I’ve been feeling like before my usual Christmas madness fully sets in—and certainly before I move on to another round of rolling the dice and anxiously awaiting responses—I really should stop and say thank you.

For the next little bit, then, I’m going to spotlight the publications that have recently made my day by giving my work some space in their pages, whether paper or digital. It’s my way of saying thank you, and also pointing you toward what I think are some great publications (and no, not just because they accepted my poems).

Each one has a distinctive character—a theme or a twist or something that sets it apart and makes for fantastic reading. All of them, as it happens, are done as a labor of love by individual editors and publishers, without backing from a university or other such.

First up: Hobo Camp Review.

Besides being fun to say (does anyone else remember Amy Sedaris as Jerri Blank saying, “hobo camp“?), this publication has a great concept: stories, poems, and essays that have the flavor of something that might be read down by the railroad tracks, around a trash-can fire. Dark, gritty … maybe a little smelly. Itinerant.

Even the information at Hobo Camp is fun to read because of its great voice and commitment to the theme. From the submission guidelines:

“While we like to envision Steinbeck, Li Po, McCullers, Bukowski, and Kerouac sitting around a campfire eating hot dogs and beans with a stray dog named Tom Waits wagging his tail at their feet, we don’t want a rehash. We’ve been eating hash here for months and we’re sick of it.”

I had a poem that was a bit of a hobo itself—I wrote it in 2009 and submitted it so many times, to so many places, and it always came limping back—and I love that it finally found a home at the Hobo Camp, in the Autumn 2013 issue.

Head hobo James H. Duncan is also an editor at Writer’s Digest and busy and successful with his own creative work, both poetry and prose. (Oh, and another thing about the collection of stories I’ve linked to—if you order it before Christmas 2013, you’ll help contribute to the Food Bank for New York City.)

If you visit Hobo Camp Review—and I hope you will—tell them FilthyJeans Sabrina sent you. They won’t know what you’re talking about, but I bet they’ll still share their mulligan stew. They’re good people that way.


Very Excited for Next Month

… because April is time for NaPoWriMo, which was so much fun last year. Similar to NaNoWrIMo but geared toward those of us who wri pos rather than nos (when it comes to fiction, I was always pretty good at setting the scene and developing characters—I just couldn’t figure out what should happen to them), NaPoWriMo is a daily writing challenge created by poet Maureen Thorson in 2003.

Each day in April, a prompt is posted, ranging from a general topic to a very specific—and sometimes very unusual—poetic form. You can write based on that prompt or just write any kind of poem. If you don’t have a blog or a website and don’t wish to create one—or if you don’t want to post unpublished poems on it—that’s all there is to it.

But to my mind, the real fun comes if you do have a blog and are willing to post poems there (more on that in a minute). I did NaPoWriMo for the first time last year and was just astounded by how much new traffic I got that way, and by how many outstanding poets I encountered for the first time by bouncing around the page of links to participants’ sites. Some of those connections remain to this day, and I treasure them.

The whole experience was so reinvigorating and enlightening—and fun. I highly recommend it.

A word to those who are new to poetry or who are writing again after a long lapse: Go for it. If you’re thinking you could never post a poem and thus make it available for public comment, please know that there are (in my experience) very few trolls among the writers and readers of poetry blogs.

Members of this loose community all seem to understand how difficult it can be to express so much in such a compressed space. Whatever your style and whatever your level of experience, you are sure to find appreciative readers this way, and any suggestions you might receive will be gentle and constructive. April would be a great time to give it a try!

And, for the more experienced, a word about the relative wisdom/foolhardiness of posting poems that you might want to submit for publication someday: I know the risks, but I go for it anyway—weekly year-round, and daily in April.


For one thing, there no longer seems to be ironclad consensus that a blog-posted poem counts as a previously published poem (which, as you probably know, is the kiss of death as far as many publications are concerned). Things seem to be easing up a bit, and if you ask around—as I have—you might find—as I have—that editors at some very reputable publications will consider poems that have been posted on your own blog (as opposed to in online literary publications).

Also, the poems I write for challenges of this type don’t tend to be the ones I submit for publication. Sometimes the exercise is enough, and it doesn’t feel as if I need to do anything further with them. Other times, they might be perfect additions to a chapbook manuscript (and for chapbooks, it’s totally fine if individual poems have been published elsewhere) or a springboard for something else.

And it’s just fun (which I think I’ve mentioned). It’s so much fun that I almost don’t mind it if I am “wasting” an entire month of poems. That is, even if they all bear the dreaded PP badge and are banished to the land of wind and ghosts, it would still be worth it. And again, no poem is ever wasted—because one that I post in April might spark an idea for something else entirely a few months down the road.

Also in April (and again in November) is a poem-a-day challenge through Writer’s Digest. I’ve done that one before and have enjoyed it but will not be doing it this time. I feel pretty busy lately and would like to focus on just one daily writing challenge; two felt like a bit much last April.

I chose NaPoWriMo for this year because the action is mainly at the individual participants’ blogs, whereas the Writer’s Digest one lives mainly in the comments section of a particular blog at the WD site. There are workarounds—you can certainly post on your own blog as well as in the comments—but the daily ping ping ping of new visitors and the fun of visiting other poets’ blogs make NaPoWriMo impossible for me to resist.

To each his or her own, though, and that comments section at Poetic Asides—the WD blog that hosts the other challenge I’m talking about—does become its own sort of community, which has its own appeal. It just depends what you’re after, and you should definitely check out both. 

Will I see you in April? Whether you take up a daily challenge or not, I hope it’s a big—and fun—month for you and your writing!


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!


Exciting news!

I was out of town recently, and while checking email from a super slow FedEx Office computer at 40 cents a minute (side note: I’ve vowed — again — that this is my last business trip without some type of smartphone or at least my very heavy laptop), I got a great surprise: A poetry collection that I edited over the summer has now been published.

Signal from Static, from Chromatopia, LLC, is available on Kindle or in paperback. I knew I would receive an editing credit, but I was really floored to see my name on the cover. How gratifying!

My own ego aside, I’m excited about this book because the poetry in it is so fresh and original. There are a lot of different styles and a range of subjects, but all the poems are united by the fact that they push boundaries and are vivid and emotionally honest. I truly enjoyed reading them, and I know you will, too.

The all-star lineup of poets includes several with whom I’ve since crossed paths during Open Link Night at dVerse Poets (aka, that thing I do each Tuesday, except for this most recent one — see the first paragraph of this post).

Chromatopia, LLC is one of many endeavors by the indefatigable Anna Montgomery, who is — among other things — both a poet and a visual artist herself. It was a joy to work with her and the individual poets in this collection, and I could not be more thrilled to see it come to fruition!


Are You Writing a Book? Seeking Blog Hop Participants

Hello, friends, followers, likers, and lurkers …

The fabulous poet and blogger Jennifer Bullis, whom I “met” during last year’s NaPoWriMo, recently tagged me for a project called Blog Hop: The Next Big Thing. This is intended for those of us who have books we’re working on, shopping around, or getting ready to publish. It’s open to writers of poetry and prose, and chapbooks count — that’s what I’ll be highlighting in my own Next Big Thing post, on February 12.

In addition to answering a few interview questions, each participant is supposed to tag three to five writers to participate as well. That’s where you come in.

I know that many or most of you with whom I cross paths in the blogosphere, and especially through Open Link Night, are writers. What I don’t know is which of you have a book in the works. If that’s you, please let me know in the comments here.

Also, here’s a little “honor system” request: I believe the spirit of the exercise is that we’re calling attention to writers with whom we’ve had some interaction so that we’re saying, “Here are these great writers I know, and they’re going to tell you what they’re working on.” So I’d like to prioritize people with whom I’ve exchanged comments in the past — or at least, mutual “likes.”

I think everything should be pretty clear from Jennifer’s post (thanks again for tagging me, Jennifer!), but I can answer any questions you might have.

If I end up with more than five potential “taggees,” I’ll think of another way to highlight the writers I’m not able to include in this project.

OK … Tag — you’re it?