“Dear Editor, thank you for considering…”

(Image: www.freepik.com)

I have 42 submissions out.

I want to say something about Schrodinger’s cat here, but I’m shit at anything to do with math or science, and would probably screw it up. My point is that I have 42 unknowns floating in the universe. They could get accepted, rejected, or languish in an abandoned email folder.

(Running total for the year is 70-something, with a handful of acceptances. Your girl can take rejection.)

All I want to do is write and revise, or chat with my writer friends about writing and revising, or read cool books. Every sub call sparks an idea, several of which I actually try to draft because I’m finally making time for it. I stay up late, ignore other obligations, and put off chores. I work with a mentor, enroll in classes and workshops, and have applied for a poetry scholarship. I have one story ready to go on the first, and another under construction for a different sub call.

And ideas for 4-5 book-length manuscripts, that I’ll write fuck-knows-when.

(This week, I’ve spent head time with a monster in a hotel, two women flirting over a fresh corpse, an amorous portrait, an Irish sea creature, and other creeps, I guess making me the biggest creep of the bunch.)

I hope there’s quality in all this quantity.

My “become a writer” game plan has three prongs. 1. Write and submit so damn much that by laws of probability, some stuff has to get accepted. 2. Write so much that my craft improves bit by bit. 3. Don’t stop.

Submitting work to magazines and anthologies is a demonstration of hope and stubbornness (and once or twice for me, spite). At this point, stubborness is in the lead.

Go, stubborness, go.

On Becoming a Writer and Learning To Be Vulnerable: Guest post by Carol Weis  

Carol Weis is the author of the memoir, STUMBLING HOME: Life Before and After That Last Drink, published by Heliotrope Books in NYC. She also wrote the Simon & Schuster picture book, When the Cows Got Loose, and the poetry chapbook, DIVORCE PAPERS. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, AARP, Independent, Salon, ESPN, Guideposts, Cosmo, and numerous other venues and has been read as commentary on NPR.

Unlike many of my writing peers, I never dreamed of being a writer. I mean, I barely made it through college. As a former actor, professional cook and baker, I seemed to have a penchant for creative pursuits, but becoming a writer was never one I considered. Then I got sober. And found I had so much I needed to say. Words in the form of primitive poetry started making their way onto whatever scrap of paper was available. And upon mastering the art of revision, I soon had enough decent poems to submit for a chapbook. 

After unearthing some of my childhood trauma in therapy, I started writing children’s books to appease that ever-present three-year-old still squirming inside of me, the one who was abandoned by a mom sick with tuberculosis for a painfully long time. Her constant need for attention dominated my life and called the shots for many years. 

Writing kid’s books seemed to assuage some of her long-ignored angst. 

At least for awhile.

But when I realized there was always an addicted character showing up in my middle grade and young adult manuscripts, I sensed I needed to shift gears and write about myself. In an achingly honest way. At first, it came in the form of  journaling, and since my daughter had reached her teen years and our fights were more frequent and ferocious, I suggested she journal with me, which turned into a mother/daughter memoir project that still seeks a publisher. And thanks to my daughter’s incessant prodding, after years of telling my wild stories at family reunions and other gatherings, I started a memoir of my own, having no idea where it would take me. So frantic to get down all the memories as they rushed in, I finished the first draft in four months, something I would never advise anyone to do. 

I wrote mostly from my bed, which at the time I called my office. The vulnerability I felt from the words and scenes that poured forth made me want to hide forever beneath the covers. During that time, my body broke out in a vicious rash, with my legs, arms, and back erupting in what I surmised was the rage I felt from the writing. Exposing things I had buried for years. Things I’d even hidden from myself. It got to the point, I only wanted to take walks at night, so I wouldn’t run into any of my neighbors or friends who knew about my book project. I hadn’t felt that kind of vulnerability since I was a kid, or since I first got sober. 

I was writing the same way the memoirists that I loved to read wrote. In a way that made me connect with what they were saying, that took me to the pit of my darkest self. In a way that helped me let go of some of the shame I carried for so many years. In a way that made me feel a lot less alone. And as I wrote for those painful four months, and revised those equally painful four years, I hoped my words would do the same for others. Because making ourselves vulnerable on the page does just that.  

And after all, isn’t that the reason we write? 

“[B]e surprised by the process,” an interview with Jessica McHugh

Jessica McHugh is a novelist, a 2x Bram Stoker Award®-nominated poet, and an internationally-produced playwright running amok in the fields of horror, sci-fi, young adult, and wherever else her peculiar mind leads. She’s had twenty-five books published in thirteen years, including her bizarro romp, The Green Kangaroos, her YA series, The Darla Decker Diaries, and her Elgin Award-nominated blackout poetry collection, A Complex Accident of Life. For more info about publications and blackout poetry commissions, please visit McHughniverse.com.

Here, she answers a few questions about her art, and how she got involved with blackout poetry.

Q: How is the experience of reading/absorbing blackout poetry different than that of traditionally written poetry?

A: I think the main difference is the amount of time you spend reading the piece, especially if the “blackout” portion is more complex and/or takes on the personality of the poem, which is what I try to do with my work. If the source material is apparent, I might spend even more time reading and re-reading, because the blackout poem sometimes honors and uplifts the original piece, whether it was intentional or not. And while I prefer to include a typed version of the poem with my pieces, not everyone does that, and if the blackout art doesn’t create a legible path for the eye, the poem might be more difficult to read/interpret and require a little more work to enjoy.

Otherwise, I think it’s a pretty similar experience. I’ve written poetry and monologues using blackout poetry techniques without actually creating a blackout piece, and I don’t think most readers would know I used a nontraditional method if I didn’t mention it. It’s an incredibly fun and versatile art form.

Q: With your unique work, you have carved out a niche in the horror writing community. How has the support of that community bolstered both your books/work and your sense of self as an artist?

A: It’s been an interesting journey, for sure. Since my first novel publication in 2008, I’ve had ups and down with my career and seen several iterations of the horror community. I’ve seen folks band together, I’ve seen them devour each other, I’ve seen people lose relevance due to an unwillingness to change with the times, and I’ve seen people going through darkness flourish with the support of their peers and come out better and brighter on the other side.

I count myself incredibly lucky to have found lifelong friends in this community and support throughout the phases of my career. Despite experimenting with playwrighting, my young adult series, and other mediums, I remained focused on horror novels and short stories and thought I’d stay on that trajectory. I never would’ve guessed that after 14 years and 25 published books, I’d be a 2x Bram Stoker Award nominee for my poetry, but I also never expected to fall in love with blackout art so quickly after I started playing around with it in early 2019. Nor did I expect such an outpouring of support from the community. While I will continue to write in whatever genre and format strike my fancy, the way blackout poetry rekindled my artistic passion after a long period of doubt, and how my horror friendos lifted me out of my gloom and doom to embrace my new artistic endeavors, makes me think blackout poetry will be a massive part of my life forever

Q: Can you tell us more about your Little Women blackout poetry? How it compares to or differs from your work in Strange Nests and A Complex Accident of Life?

A: Absolutely! My 3rd as-yet-untitled blackout poetry collection, inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, is definitely my most ambitious project so far. It will have 155 poems to coincide with the novel’s 155th anniversary in 2023, which is triple the number of poems in both A Complex Accident of Life and Strange Nests. That wasn’t my original intention, but I’ve come to realize that “original intentions” don’t matter much when it comes to these collections. A Complex Accident of Life only became a collection because Jacob Haddon of Apokrupha saw me posting Frankenstein blackout poetry and reached out about compiling the pieces. Strange Nests wasn’t planned either; it was more of a coping mechanism after my brother passed away in January 2021 and transformed into something so much more. So I’ve rolled with the punches and allowed myself to be surprised by the process. Deciding to make a lot more poems from Little Women has opened up the narrative in a huge way and allowed me to explore weirder paths, giving the collection more of a cosmic horror feel while remaining a fierce tale of sisterhood, selfhood, and feminine rage. While an official release date has not been set yet, it will probably be available from Apokrupha around April 2023. 

Q: Finally, is there a text you have your eye on for a future project? Are you willing to share what that is?

A: For collections, I’ll likely keep using classics written by women for as long as possible, and while I’d have to verify these are in the public domain, I’d love to play with Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and pretty much any Agatha Christie. Outside of that theme, I’m also eager to make some creepy holiday pieces from A Christmas Carol. But really, I’m open to giving anything and everything a shot. I’ve found beautiful poetry in the most unlikely places, and I never get tired of discovering the hidden treasures within. 

To commission your own blackout poem, contact Jessica here.

Writing Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops: Guest Post from Allison Hong Merrill

The blog took a spring break, but is back with Allison Hong Merrill, author of the bestselling and award-winning memoir Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops. Here, Allison tells us about the process of rebuilding and restructuring her memoir after receiving beta reader feedback, and shares some of her best writing tips. Thank you, Allison!

When reading a book, I like to see the hook, setting, character, and conflicts of the story set up within the first few pages. So I make sure to offer my reader the same gift.

Originally, my memoir, Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops, was written in a nonlinear structure. But several of my beta readers suggested that I revamp the entire manuscript and change the narrative into a chronological timeline, so I did. It was a huge undertaking. The manuscript went through twelve full revisions. On average, each pass took two weeks. And when I say, “I revamped the entire manuscript,” I mean I even changed the title. It went from Grafted Mandarin to Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops because the new structure is in ninety-nine short sections. But even after this major overhaul and subsequent edits, the first ten pages remained unchanged from the first draft to the published book. It’s because the inciting incident, setting, main characters, and conflicts of the story are established within those pages.

When writing a book, I like to do the following:

1. Imagine my book adapted into a film, then I write scenes and dialogue as if describing them from the movie.

2. Do book research and save images on pinterest.com to create a mood board for reference. For a visual person like myself, this method works really well.

3. I make myself a different writing-related promise and a reward every week. This is not a goal; it’s a promise. A goal is for reference, a promise is to be kept. Some examples of my promises are: write an hour every day, revise a chapter, create social media content. If I keep my promise that week, I reward myself. My top three rewards are: watch a movie, buy a cute notebook, sleep in on Sunday morning. If, for any reason, I fail to keep my promise, then I give myself a second chance in the following week to restore my integrity and try again. Sometimes it’s necessary to promise myself to practice the art of self-care. I’ll take a week off from writing to recharge my creative energy. I work with another writer as accountability sisters. We check in every Saturday morning to support each other and to celebrate our victories, big and small.

4. I’m a memoirist. To dive deeper into my memory, I keep a tin box of NIVEA crème on my desk. Its distinctive scent takes me back to my childhood years and, from there, I get to explore the past and find inspirations for my writing projects. Smell triggers memory. If you’re writing about your past, please consider keeping something (lotion, soap, shampoo, perfume, scented candle, essential oil, etc.) on your desk with a scent that reminds you of the olden days.

5. Because I’m a visual person, instead of setting a timer on my phone, I flip over a sixty-minute hourglass on my desk to help me stay focused on one-uninterrupted-hour of writing.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Happy writing!

Juggling WIPs

The view from my office window.

This is not trying to be instructional. This is more or less a rambling cry for help.

How do you decide what to work on and when, if you have lots of writing projects started? Especially if demands in your life are all grabbing at your legs like toddlers? (Some of you likely have actual toddlers grabbing at your legs.) I have to get a lesson plan ready for Intro to CW class at 4 today and proofread a typeset novel for my other job. But I’m distracted by thoughts of the last two stories I need to finish for my speculative fiction collection, and the poem that’s almost done but not quite, and the essay about writing I started yesterday that today I’m thinking might be garbage (and if it is, how much time I spent on it).

I also saw a sub call yesterday for ghost stories (Can I write one by the end of May?) and a horror poetry collection that doesn’t accept simsubs (Where do I have that one poem out? Must remember to check my sub list). There are several titles I’m trying to read before StokerCon, too, so, of course, add reading to the to-do list.

How do you focus? How do you organize your projects? Do you have an order of importance, and if so, is that by deadline or by interest? I’m excited about everything, and I love having a lot going on, but instead of doing any of it, I’m staring out the window.

“We don’t create feminist horror; it imposes itself upon us,” an interview with Lindsay Merbaum

Lindsay Merbaum is a queer feminist author, workshop leader, high priestess of home mixology, editor, and more. Her debut novel, The Gold Persimmon, is available now.

Q: Feminist Horror is not new, but it does seem to be experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Can you tell us a little about the genre and its unique opportunities, and why people are celebrating it right now?

A: Feminist horror is borne from the experience of femmes and/or the female-bodied. Often our first encounter with real-life horror involves subtle interactions with imposed gender norms, or not-so-subtle acts of violence such as bullying, assault, and rape. In this sense, we don’t create feminist horror, it imposes itself upon us. In a time of renewed fascism, where the right to abortion access is disappearing before our eyes, where rates of domestic violence have soared during the pandemic, as the Earth continues to heat up, causing death and destruction, there is a renewed interest in finding ourselves in the stories that employ speculative and horror elements to address real-life occurrences. Fiction often expresses the unspeakable and, in this case, feminist horror explores the monstrous nature of misogyny in all its forms. 

Q: Your novel The Gold Persimmon has just debuted, to rave reviews, and is unlike any other work out there. Helen Phillips said “The Gold Persimmon is a place where grief, sex, and mystery mingle,” and the novel has been called “dark,” “experimental,” “queer,” “feminist,” “horror,” “eerie,” “atmospheric,” and more. How did you conceptualize this? Did you consider its classification as the story developed, or did you leave all of that to sort itself out later? 

A: I spent many years writing and re-writing The Gold Persimmon, but the only classification I applied to it was fiction. Of course I knew it was a queer book, but I didn’t realize others would see it as experimental, or even feminist horror, until it started to reach a wider audience outside of my editors and former agent. I think I wrote it the only way I could, in the only way that made sense to me. It turns out what I wrote is shocking to some, and deeply unsettling not only in content, but form as well. Readers find the shift from Part I to Part II to be jarring. They find themselves lost at times. To me, this contributes to its effect as a work of horror. I also believe that every reader’s experience of the text is valuable and interesting, regardless of whether or not they pick up on the connection between the two narratives the book contains. 

Q: In addition to being an author, you are also a mixologist and a workshop leader. How do these different parts of your life fit together?

A: I like to say I have two passions in life: books and booze. Mixology provides an outlet for bringing the two together, as I continue building a library of booktails: cocktails and mocktails inspired by books of all kinds. This work actually involves so many more passions, however, like photography, sculpture, and playing with food. I’ve got white chocolate skulls and marzipan teeth lying around, not to mention all the pounds of sugar I’ve dyed and scattered about. What I read is now largely dictated by what drinks I want to make, or by the authors who commission me to booktail-ize their work. As a result, I’ve gotten the chance to expand the scope of my reading and delve into genres I’d never explored deeply, like romance and sci-fi. It is an expensive project, though, both in terms of time and materials.

[To find out more about Lindsay’s booktails, including personalized potions, Ostara cards, recipe packages, and book + recipe bundles, go to her website.]

Q: What are you working on right now? Why are you excited about it (or them)? 

A: I’m slowly building a proposal for a book of booktails. My next novel is also currently out with beta readers. It’s about a magical midwestern queer bar, a locus for the riotous convergence of witches and goddesses. Though I pull from several mythologies, Sumerian myth looms largest, with the goddess Inanna taking center stage. Fun fact: the earliest recorded poetry was composed by Enheduanna, a Sumerian high priestess of Inanna. Born around 2300 B.C.E., Enheduanna was the high priestess of the most important temple in Ur, a city in the south of Sumer that embodied the culture of the time. She lived eleven hundred years before Homer–around five hundred before Abraham–and wrote her poetry about three hundred years after the cuneiform vocabulary had just developed to a point where poetic phrase was even possible

My next-next novel was inspired by Sami ancestor worship and the belief in an afterlife that is right under our feet, our steps mirrored toe-for-toe by those who came before. It’s the story of a lesbian marriage and it’s kind of like a combination of Outlander and Being John Malkovich.

“I look at everything as a story,” an interview with Christina Consolino

Christina Consolino, senior editor at Literary Mama, freelance writer and editor, and author of the award-winning novel Rewrite the Stars, shares what it was like to launch her first book during the pandemic, what she’s working on now, and why writers should always, always pay attention to the world around them. Thanks, Christina!

Q: Happy Book Birthday! You launched Rewrite the Stars during the pandemic last March, a novel that has landed as finalist for several awards and garnered an impressive list of blurbs. What was that experience like? What were the highs and lows of debuting when the world was (and still is) knocked sideways?

A: Thank you so much for having me here! It seems hard to believe so much time had passed! I signed a publishing contract in April 2020, after much of our world had effectively shut down, and my novel debuted in March 2021. Because Rewrite the Stars is my first novel, I had no experience to compare its launch to. In retrospect, I think that’s a good thing—my bar was set pretty low! (Which seems like a horrible thing to say as I strive to be an optimistic person.) Everything I did to get the book ready for publication and beyond—approach authors for blurbs, submit to awards, pitch to podcasts and the launch itself—was done virtually. As an introvert, I found the virtual route easier than if I had to do anything in person. As a woman with many obligations, I also found it easier to plan for a Zoom launch because finding an hour to do something is far more palatable than finding two hours.

Because I debuted a year into the pandemic and the world was used to the virtual platform but not completely fatigued by it yet, my launch was well attended and held an abundance of energy. I consider that launch a highlight! Having never had a novel out in the world, it was wonderful to see readers, supporters, writing partners, friends, and family with my book in their hands. A low point for me involves the lack of interest by the library and bookstore in the city my characters visit on vacation. The library especially plays a role in the story (and in my life when I visit), and I would have loved to find my book there or even hold a virtual reading. And while reader reviews have been positive, because the number of in-person events has been limited, the connection I’d love to forge with the reader has been dampened. (Thankfully, some readers feel comfortable emailing with a line or two about how the novel affected them. These words mean so, so much to me!)

Overall, the experience enlightened me to what an author must do to launch a book and keep the book present. It also showed how adaptable (or not) the book industry can be. I hope to apply everything I learned to the next book.

Q: I am always interested in a writer’s “other selves,” and the way those interests and lifestyle facets work together. You are a scientist as well as an author, having taught anatomy and physiology at the college level for years. How does writing affect your scientific brain, and how does your knowledge of science affect your writing?

A: Writing has always been near and dear to my heart, and years ago, I grappled with the choice to pursue a creative degree or a more practical degree. With guidance from well-intentioned parents who wanted me to be able to support myself fully, if necessary, I chose the practical route and earned a doctorate in physiology. But even as I lectured on the cardiac cycle or the structure of skeletal muscle, a little voice spoke to me. “Write,” it said. While my children—I have four—were little, that meant blogging; it’s all I had time or energy for, and capturing snapshots of our lives then, maybe inserting snark or finding the humor in them, fulfilled me. A decade ago, though, the voice changed from the generic one prodding me to write to a full character telling me their story. As you might know, it’s difficult to ignore a voice that’s constantly pestering you!

That’s a lot of (perhaps unnecessary) backstory, but I share it because the answer to your question took me years to fully realize. When I reflect back on my time in graduate school—even just the application and interview process—signs pointed to my true desires to write. At my interview with the graduate school chair at the time, a gastrointestinal physiologist, he said, “Your essay is quite different from what we normally see. It’s a beautiful story.” I often think back to that hour I spent with him. What if I’d recognized then that my stories needed to be told? Would I have left the physiology department with a polite “Thank you for your time,” and applied to English or creative writing instead? Who knows?

My point: I look at everything as a story, and I want to connect the dots, find a structure, and produce a storyline. When I taught, my lectures had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the “story” flowed, and I chose my words carefully, much like a writer does. And now, though I don’t teach science, I use that background every day, either in writing or in freelance editing. Being able to formulate questions, make suggestions, dig deeper, and test hypotheses serves me well in the writing arena and allows me to ask questions or hold a perspective that not everyone else has. Furthermore, most of my fiction revolves around some physical or mental health issue—the science lover in me still exists—and knowing the disease processes, how the body works, and what questions to ask puts me at an advantage when it comes time to do research.

Q: What project or projects are you working on right now? Why are you excited about it or them?

A: My work is mainly categorized as women’s fiction, and my next novel, The Chocolate Garden, is no exception. The story centers on seventy-seven-year-old Frank Raffaelo, a retired serviceman who loves his family but doesn’t always understand them or their motivations. An accidental fall forces Frank to face a fear—that his memory might be failing him—and rely on his three children: Gabe, the oldest, who’s overseas; Nico, the youngest, who is keeping a secret from his family; and Marissa, the middle child, who wants to feel like she belongs and matters to her family. Marissa is also a nurse practitioner, and with time, she realizes that while Frank might not show any abnormal cognitive changes, his wife of forty-two years, Angie, does. When Angie’s denial of her symptoms results in dangerous consequences, the Raffaelo family understands that life as they know it is about to change.

In 2015, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. That summer, I spent many hours with my parents, and I sat with my mother as she was assessed for cognitive changes and diagnosed with “changes consistent with Alzheimer’s” (definitive diagnosis can only occur upon autopsy). Since then, I’ve taken on the role of point person for her health and well-being. This book reflects my experiences since that summer and exposes the toil and hardship that dementia can cause for partners and families. I hope it resonates with readers who have had similar experiences and helps them realize that they and their loved ones aren’t alone.

Aside from The Chocolate Garden, a few other projects are also in the works, but it’s a little early to divulge any of their secrets!

Q: Finally, I believe the writing community thrives when writers support one another and share their experiences. What advice do you have for the rest of us for hanging on to our creative selves when life is so messy? What techniques can you share with us for finding energy when we’re running low on it? 

A: Finding solace in writing—which, for me, is usually a solitary affair—is something I do every day. Shutting off from the real world is integral to maintaining my personal health and well-being (and sometimes, those characters just won’t be quiet!). Times exist, though, when my virtual writing friends are just what I need. Despite my ineptitude with social media and my dislike of the venue, there’s a draw there, and it comes from the writing community. They are a generous, welcoming, safe lot that understands why you’re stressed about life. They know how difficult it is to find minutes to write between parents or kids or grandparents or jobs or partners or bouts of loneliness. They understand that messiness and offer you a listening ear, advice, encouragement—whatever you need. So one tip would be to involve yourself in a good writing community and become involved. And by involved, I mean don’t just lurk there (though that’s a good start!). Participate in whatever way you can. Comment on a post, share a post, read a book and review it. Make friends! These folks will be your lifeline through the whole publication process.

As for hanging onto creativity and finding energy . . . I think it’s important to have other creative outlets that bring us joy. When a story just isn’t working for me, I often bake. The process soothes me, I enjoy it, and I always have a finished product (that usually tastes great). Somehow, being able to hold something concrete in my hands energizes me and clears my head. Walks outside also help; the air and nature rejuvenate my cluttered mind. Lately, I’ve also relied on my fifteen-minute solution: I set a timer and concentrate for fifteen minutes on the task at hand. At the end of the time, I celebrate (usually just a mental high five) what I’ve accomplished. The task can be anything from my own writing project to a client’s manuscript to dusting my home or weeding the garden, and I get a lot accomplished in fifteen minutes. That sense of accomplishment helps fill the empty vessel within once again.

Should you create an author website? Yes.

I’ll keep this one short.

Recently, I stopped waffling about whether or not I should create a website and did it. Or, rather, I paid someone else to do it, because I’m from that in-between generation that didn’t grow up with computers but now we’re forced to use them for everything and to be honest, we’re still a little disoriented. (I had a word processor in high school that was, for then, top of the line.)

I dragged my feet about it because I thought, well, I don’t have a book. I’ll make one if I get my collection published. In the meantime, I racked up publications one by one, here and there, in smaller journals and online magazines, anthologies and even on podcasts (two of those forthcoming!). I realized I had plenty to put on a website, BUT, even if I didn’t, it still would have been worth making one. Create a website for the writing life you want, not for the writing life you have? Something like that?

If you create a website, you are basically making yourself “findable” via internet search. You are giving people a way to contact you. You are creating a professional presence, so that WHEN you get published (gotta believe, right?), you already have that piece in place. When you get stories or poems picked up by journals, small or large, you can actually fill in the “website” box on the bio form. And if you’re a blogger (whether it’s shouting into the void or talking to a few people or to many), it gives you a handy place to keep posts.

One of my favorite things about having a website, though, is a thing just for me. I love having one place where all of my publications and little accolades get to live. It’s like a digital creative resume. An online scrapbook. It’s nice to see all of my work together–like the last, oh, decade and a half of writing and revising and submitting has amounted to more than nothing.

If you don’t have money to spend on a website right now, create one for free on WordPress or a similar platform. You can upgrade it later and update it as you go.

(Also, it’s worth noting that there have been very few days with zero website visitors.)

If nothing else, I bet your mom/partner/best friend/dog/cat will think your website is cool.

“Comparisons are a waste of time,” an interview with Ellen Birkett Morris

Award-winning author Ellen Birkett Morris, whose titles include Lost Girls, Abide, and Surrender, shares here her philosophy on writing and the ways in which her career has continued to change and evolve, always coming back to words and their power. Find out more about Ellen, see her list of publications, and check out other interviews at ellenbirketmorris.ink.

Q: One thing I often remind myself and cheer on other writers with is this idea of determination and resilience–belief in one’s work, stubbornness even. Your own publications and projects are impressive in both their number and variety–you write and teach and publish in so many genres. How have you developed persistence? What can you share with others on the topic? 

A: My work is fueled by the fact that I really love to write.  Before I pursued creative writing seriously I worked my way into jobs in journalism and freelance writing that allowed me to write. Once I started to write creatively I learned how hard it is to get published and how much rejection was involved. I started by taking classes and working with a writing group. I made my work the best it could be. Then I reminded myself that each writer brings a different style and level of talent to the work so comparisons are a waste of time. I focus on what I do best. When it comes to rejection I realize that different editors like different things. It isn’t a reflection of my worth as a writer. If I get a no then I revise the work and send it elsewhere. No one is going to work harder than me to get my voice in the world, so I believe deeply in my work.

Q: Do you have a “home genre,” one you are more comfortable with than others? If so, which is it, and what about it appeals to you? 

A: I love the short story form the most and think I am good at it, but poetry is where I began as a writer. Poetry is my home. I love how crystalized poems are, how they capture experience through just the right image and in so few words. As a writer you have to bring the camera in very close in poems so you reflect both an outer world and an inner existence. Each poem is a beautiful puzzle. I have a new chapbook out called Abide from Seven Kitchens Press.

Q: What are your current projects or undertakings, and why are they energizing you right now? 

A: I am currently working on a collection of stories centered on the theme of home. Home is something we can all relate to and it can be looked at through so many different viewpoints.

I am also working on revising novel-length work. I just hired a developmental editor and I can’t wait to learn a lot from him about how to make my novel work better.

Q: If developing and writing and revising are one side of a coin, the other side is submitting and querying and promoting. That second side is the one many of us struggle with–either because we don’t have the skills or the inclination. How have you found a balance between the two over the years, or at least the tools and time needed to market and publicize your work? Do you have any advice for the rest of us? 

A: I had the advantage of working in journalism and getting used to seeing my work in print. I brought that same drive to my creative writing. As a reporter, I was on the receiving end of pitches and got to learn a bit about marketing. I’ve spent over 15 years doing contract public relations for a women’s foundation so that has helped build my promotion skills. I remind myself that my work won’t get published unless I put it in front of an editor. Once it is published it won’t catch reader’s eyes unless I promote it. That keeps me going. It is hard to find the time, but worth it. There are great resources on social media, especially The Writer’s Bridge run by Allison K. Williams and Ashleigh Renard. I also love “Before and After the Book Deal” by Courtney Maum.

“Not Yet”

Published by 50-Word Stories (fiftywordstories.com)

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Where the creek bends is as good a place as any, pills in your pocket, short note signed. Cold in January, lonely too, but that feels right. Until you notice those bare stalks are forsythia, dried seed heads—rudbeckia? Ironweed? And you think you can wait, like them, for spring.

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