For the last two weeks, I’ve been working pretty dang hard, y’all.
I attended AWP in Minneapolis and tabled with Minor Arcana Press, as mentioned last post.
What does that look like?
The Thunderdome, apparently. Photo credit: Laura Lucas
So our table was in the waay back of the hall. But still attractive and exciting!
We survived on coffee and manic cheer.
“We” was me and the fiction writer/poet/all-round lovely human being Laura Lucas (above), who helped me table and kept me sane through the three days of 14,000 people circulating about the hall.
And then I flew home. On the flight I sat next to a woman who was a friend by the end of the flight: a writer on Whidbey Island. We processed our convention experiences, what we were working on, what it’s like to write both in and out of community. I think our three-hour conversation wins at Top Plane Conversations Ever. There’s something really beautiful about the liminal space of being on an airplane. This was a conversation that perhaps could not have reached such depth without the lovely in-between-ness of being suspended in a metal tube miles above earth for three hours.
This month has been synchronicity central. I was a Bad Pagan and ditched my Ostara (Spring Equinox) ritual, but dang if the Pagan Themes of Spring aren’t whacking me upside the head every other day. Those themes, for the record, include embodiment/germination/hatching of dreams…realizing that you have been occupying too small a space and getting out of your shell. Growth. Wing-stretching.
And nothing has helped me with that more than the Artist’s Trust EDGE program. Holy Business Boot Camp, Batman! For those of you unfamiliar with Artist’s Trust, they are a statewide Washington program that does many things including grants to individual artists of all stripes and professional development, like the EDGE program. The EDGE program is sometimes an intensive residency (one week with class 9-5 most days) and sometimes done as weekly workshops on the weekend or the evenings. My understanding is that next year’s visual artist EDGE program is going to be run both ways.
Fort Worden is out by Port Townsend. It’s a State Park, a historical site, and a conference center. It’s real pretty, y’all.
I spent the week in the beautiful Fort Worden, chilling in a cabin, hanging out on the beach, and learning giant piles of information about topics like professional presentation, business plans, IP law and copyright issues, marketing, and more. This is the part of writing life that I think most MFA programs (particularly, bless their hearts, the low-res ones) fail to cover. So a fairly vital part of what was missing in my life as a writer has been filled in. Now to implement it all…
Incidentally, it was Laura is the one who originally encouraged me to do the EDGE program. See? Synchonicity abounds.
Next week: Less about me? More about writing? I might just rant about spreadsheets forever? Only the future knows.
The first thing I noticed about the con was that everyone was dressing and acting their Writer Persona, myself included. “Everyone here is cosplaying as a writer,” I joked on Twitter, but it was true. There was a lot of tweed and bow ties and classy shoes and red lipstick. The networking aspect of AWP is huge. Sometimes by “networking,” I mean meeting the amazing amount of poets and poetry publishers that are associated with Minor Arcana Press, as well as chatting with artists who are interested in submitting to Minor Arcana Press’ forthcoming journal, Monster Fancy. But I also got to see a great deal of lovely Goddard people and writers I know and love and haven’t seen in far too long.
Some of my dear Goddard pals.
Technically I see this fierce poet all the time, but hey, still exciting to see each other at AWP.
Networking and table-minioning is mostly what I ended up doing for the three days of the con; this included giving people single-card Tarot readings, which was a lot of fun. There was a long lovely list of panels and workshops, but sadly I only made it out to one. Still, it was a great panel, and a rousing defense of genre fiction. It was funny going to a con where genre fiction was a thing to be defended rather than a default. It felt good to be repping a huge book of speculative poetry.
Getcher comic book poetry! Get it while it’s ekphrastic!
Minor Arcana Press’ flagship product at AWP was our brand-spankin’-new book of poems inspired by comic books and superheroes, Drawn to Marvel: Poems From the Comic Books. It was a truly triumphant launch for the book; people ate ’em up. Many of the poets and one of the editors, Bryan D. Dietrich, were on hand to sign. Drawn to Marvel is a honkin’ book. At 139 poets and something like 300 poems, it’s a force to be reckoned with. It spans nearly five decades of people writing poetry about superheroes and comics, everything from Popeye to Storm to Batman. It everyone from epic names in the poetry world to wee poetry padawans like me. Some of my favorite poems include “Oya Invites Storm to Tea” by Tara Betts, “Luke Cage Tells It Like It Is” by Gary Jackson, “Sex Life of the Fantastic Four” by Michael Martone, and “Haikus from Supervillains to the People They Love” by Ryan Bradley.
Poet Stephen Burt, poet/editor Bryan D. Dietrich, poet Gary Jackson, and poet/EIC Evan J. Peterson
Really, for a book release, AWP made all of my wildest dreams come true. The poetry industry is a weird place, and it was great to sink deeper into the weirdness. My secret hope is that projects like Drawn to Marvel advance the cause of speculative poetry and encourage people to look at the connections between poetry and popular culture.
Short version of the story: Minor Arcana Press is so hot right now. Be sure to keep up with us on our website, and submit toMonster Fancy*, ya weirdos.
Although I was working, that didn’t stop me from getting out and spending a tad more money than I should have on shiny books and journals.
One of my favorites was Spork Press, which has beautiful, bizarre hand-bound books. I got “Saturn,” which is basically the most satisfying David Bowie fan fiction possible. They’re beautiful and well-designed products; I’m a huge sucker for sexy book design, thus my torrid love affair with Wave Books. I also really enjoy Two Sylvias Press. Aside from carrying two of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s poetry books, they also print the Poet’s Tarot, which is a fun tarot deck with poets as the major arcana and court cards.
In conclusion, an AWP well-spent. Yesterday I hunkered in my fortress of introversion, read a lot of comics**, and I’m ready now to return those emails and continue this lovely mad writing life.
*Monster Fancy: A journal of high-brow, low-brow, and no-brow art and writing for the discerning monster enthusiast.
**Finally read Locke & Key: Alpha and Omega by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez, cue all the feels oh god read that whole series at once
Say you have a large pile of stories (or poems, or comics, or essays) that you want to cobble together. And the first thing you think about when you think about putting them all together into a single cohesive chapbook or manuscripts is some sort of gutteral noise, like “BLUGGH” or “SNNNUGRRT.” This post is for you.
To me, making an anthology is kind of like maxing a mix tape. The order is important: it needs some kind of logical flow, plus a solid opener and a lasting final track. There are totally rules to a good mix tape, even if there is debate as to what those rules are. But in any case, no matter how you order your poems, there will be some kind of message communicated, and it’s probably best to make sure you know what the overall impression your collection is giving off. Otherwise you might end up in a situation like this:
I mean, Princeton did actually get his message across, but perhaps not in the most effective way.
However, this song does bring up a key facet of anthologies: Side A/Side B. Note how I’m not talking about a mix CD; I’m using the mix tape metaphor because in my mind, the midpoint is really that important, especially in a longer anthology. If there are more than ten or so poems/stories/essays, it’s useful to have a strong piece in the middle that either embodies the collection as a whole, or is the something-est in the collection (darkest, most lighthearted, strongest embodiment of a theme). If you’re making a stapled chapbook, this will be the literal centerfold piece, i.e. the thing people see when they let the book fall open to the center. If you’re in the land of perfect-bound (paperback) books, then your midpoint needn’t be so exact.
Here’s a few examples of midpoint stories/poems/essays that I see:
In the middle of Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics comes the story “Games Without End,” which is a story about the creation of the universe/multiverse through these oddly-named entities playing games. That’s a pretty good theme statement for the whole book.
Haruki Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes seems to have a single character narrating maybe two thirds or more of the stories; it’s never really clear. There are certain recurring themes, characters, and voices. One of the recurring characters, who in my head at least is the key to the entire collection, is named Noboru Watanabe. The midpoint story of the collection, “Family Affair,” is the second time Noboru Watanabe has come up during the book and for me, anyway, the point at which the stories began to gel together.
In David Whyte’s poetry collection, The House of Belonging, the poem “The Journey” falls in more or less the middle. Whyte divides his collection into four sections, and “The Journey is right at the end of section two. It’s a good thematic encapsulation of the collection as a whole, ending with the lines: “someone has written/something new/in the ashes/of your life//you are not leaving/you are arriving.”
Sections are another powerful tool to use when arranging an anthology. Essay collections do it frequently; Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses uses the five senses plus synesthesia as her sections. She has smell and touch first, though, and only later gets ’round to the perhaps more talked-about senses of sight and hearing. Poetry collections often use sections, either titled or untitled. And even short story collections can make good use of headings. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s collection There Once Was a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby is divided into four sections suggesting what type of story they contain: Songs of the Eastern Slavs, Allegories, Requiems, and Fairy Tales.
Overall, though, I find it important to let your pieces come together with some kind of arc. Everyone talks about arc: screenwriters, poets, novelists. “Arc” can mean a sort of simplified form of the hero’s journey, or glomming on to a pre-existing mythic structure in order to give your stories (or whatnot) some sense of progression and flow. In my thesis anthology for Goddard, I started with a story called “The Boy Who Went Forth To Learn About Fear and the Girl Who Knew Perfectly Well What It Was”…which I realize is one helluva mouthful. Still, it’s a story about going on a quest, and seeing things from multiple perspectives, which sets you up for a lot of the perspective shifts I do later in the collection. The stories get progressively darker and more depressing until my midpoint tale, “The Juniper Child,” which is perhaps my darkest piece, but ends with a literal resurrection (of a dead child). My stories get happier and/or more redemptive after that one, and the collection ends on another “Boy Who” tale (“The Boy Who Lost His Soul”), this one with a mysterious ending that’s not entirely happy but not entirely sad, either.
“Arc” can be simpler, too…ordering your poems in a vaguely chrological way to track your movement from childhood to adulthood…ordering your essays about the Pacific Crest Trail on a way that shows your journey from start to finish…putting your stories in thematic groups and then doing all the “loss of innocence” stories first and the “gaining experience” stories second…y’know. Something to give your anthology a shape.
And finally, because no discussion of a mix tape would be complete without it, this discussion of the importance of the first three “tracks”:
“The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.” -Rob Gordon, High Fidelity
No, but really. The first piece has to be strong. The second needs to blow you out of the water. The third can calm down a little. The weirdo pieces that are breaking all the rules need to go partway between the beginning and the middle, or the middle and the end. The last story should be resonating with the feeling of the anthology as a whole. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is a great example of this “perfect mixtape” type ordering.
Really, the best way to learn how to order your pieces in an anthology is to a) try a bunch of stuff out and b) look at anthologies you love and steal their tricks. And yes, like Rob Gordon says, it does take longer than you think.
Do you have tips/tricks/great examples particularly in genres I did not represent well here? Post ’em below.
I roadtripped down to Portland last weekend to attend the Wordstock festival, a gleeful gathering of authors, small presses, and literary folk. I got to also reconnect with some college friends, which was great. It turns out that what we all did with our early twenties involved wandering and writing novels.
The conference was a good time: I saw Aimee Bender read from her new novel (delicious prose that makes me catch my breath). I chatted up two of the MFAs I’m looking at, Pacific University and Goddard College. I got to see a range of local publishing houses and their products. I gave a copy of Freedomland to a young adult press. (It could be young adult-ish? Yes?)
There were some roving editors in the conference, as well, and I snagged a session with the sci-fi editor from Indigo Editing to dicuss The November Girls. It was really useful; I asked her about some of the structuring issues I’d been having and got a really useful structure to try out. At the moment, my main structuring tool is a bunch of excitingly colored post-its on the basement wall, which I believe comes from a long tradition of writers and conspiracy theorists. She also talked about “Jaws of Life” characters; in the same way that the Jaws of Life are a tool that does a job no other tool can do, certain characters do things that can do what no other character can do. In my case, it’s the elusive Robin.
Also! I signed up for a sweet new site that’s a little bit like literary twitter. It’s called Typetrigger. Every six hours, they spit out a word or phrase to write about for up to 300 words. Their motto: “Not highbrow. Not lowbrow. Just moustache.” Right now it’s invitation only, so five lucky commenters who ask for one could totally get an invite. Holler!