Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I'm a Big Kid Now

Yes and no are easy, finite answers to daily questions: would you like a fourth cup of coffee? Did you wear that outfit yesterday? Want to go to Boston for Spring Break?
I’m constantly trying to define the term “grown up” now that I have the opportunity to look back at my academic career, and what I’ve found is this: a “grown up” is one who has the capacity to make a choice when presented with troubling circumstances and who’s willing to be responsible for the consequences. That being said, let me tell you a little something about going to your first writer’s conference in one of your final semesters in your graduate program. 

AWP moves to a different city every year; I was lucky enough to attend this year when the city of choice was Boston. A few things about me: I want to get married inside Fenway Park, I want to feel superior next to a mound of snow, and Tom Brady has made me cry twice. To be able to visit such an emotional place for a completely valid reason is one of those decisions that wasn’t actually so difficult to make. 

It should be awkward for a 25 year old to still get jittery on a flight (especially now, when if the flight attendant asks if I’d care for a drink, I’ll be tempted to start a tab). My stomach, as turbulent as the clouds we flew through, was enduring the consequences of my (tiny but extremely real) fear of flying all because of a simple choice - this decision was all mine.

And what we need to understand is how many more doors open when we say yes to opportunities. My Spring Break was interrupted by the first ever named winter storm, but it was also transformed into a duality of work and play. In between panels of Israeli and Iranian poets (one of which I am) and recently graduated MFAs discussing how awesome being an adjunct is when compared to not having a job (one of which I will most likely be), I walked a path through Boston Commons and built homunculus snowmen, measured the distance between seats of the Green Monster, and determined where my parents will sit during the ceremony.

It was a growing experience: wait, I was just told I must describe the AWP after party, which is fine because it ties in rather nicely to my description of the work and play duality. Writers become different people after 8 pm. After spending three days in my charming, witty banter mode, it was a spectacle to behold editors and published writers (as sweaty and flexible as you would expect) acknowledging that, this too, is their jam. Apparently this decade’s laureates have 90s rap and hip hop to thank for the flourishing of their talents. 

A simple yes made it possible for me to revitalize my talent while being able to cross momentous occasions off my bucket list. I think the most important thing you learn after realizing you have grown up is the myriad of things you can feel, often contradictory to each other, at the same time. 

Negean is finishing her final year as an MFA candidate in poetry. Her rare blend of honest humor seems to captivate people enough to ask constantly "is she serious?" or to announce an inner thought "I can't tell if she's being sarcastic." She assures you that you will never know. Negean currently teaches English Composition to college freshmen, who laugh at the same jokes she tells her elementary sized creative writing aftercare students. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fortune: On Working with Small Presses As Both Writer and Editor


In 2006, I ran into Rodger Kamenetz, one of my former professors, at the Louisiana Book Festival. During our conversation, I mentioned that I’d written a chapbook, Balm, and had a publisher lined up. Then I dropped this bombshell:

“But I’m thinking about starting my own press and publishing it myself.”

He was quiet for a moment, smiled, and said, “Well, you know what they say about how to make a small fortune as a publisher.”

“No, what?”

“Start with a large one.”

I didn’t get it then, but I do now.

In my defense, I wasn’t foolish enough to think that publishing my chapbook and, eventually, other people’s books would make me rich. But what I really knew about publishing probably couldn’t have fit on a Post-It Note.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot, and in an interview with The Alchemist Review, I gave a little advice on starting a small journal or press. Because I don’t want to repeat myself too much, I’m going to focus on what goes on behind the scenes at a small press from both an author’s and an editor’s perspective.

A lot of small presses operate, at least in part, as co-ops. Unlike large, traditional publishers, these presses usually have limited resources and small staffs, often volunteer. Thus, they rely on authors to handle tasks—copyediting, layout, design, advertising, etc.—that a bigger company would. In some cases, the authors are as involved in production and promotion as the press.

For Petticoat Government, my first book, I worked with Jared Michael Wahlgren, the founder and publisher of Gold Wake Press, to edit and lay out the copy, and I designed the cover myself. (I did consult a professional graphic designer, however, for advice on typography, spine measurements, and file conversion. I’m not perfect.)

When the book was released, Wahlgren and I both handled promotion. We mailed review copies, submitted the collection to contests, and advertised using social media. I took the copies he provided—and, when those sold out, additional copies purchased directly from the press—to readings. It’s been two years since Petticoat was published, and I’m still marketing it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, and I’m sure I’ll make a few more.

Not all writers work so intensely with their presses, of course, but I know a lot who do. These days, I can’t log into Facebook or Twitter without seeing a promotional post from a small-press author. (I’m not complaining!) The thing is, it’s rare to hear anyone talk about the writer as an active participant in the publishing process.

Here’s what I thought I knew about publishing: the writer’s job is to write, and the publisher handles everything else. I guess if you’re exceptionally lucky, that’s what happens. But shouldn’t the author care as much about his or her book as the press? Maybe that’s why, as Rodger joked, publishers need a large fortune to make a small one—because they have to pay people to care and to make others care, too.

So, here’s the (my?) truth: I learned more about publishing while working on my own book than I did in the five years I’d been running my press, and I wish all writers would collaborate with their publishers. Collaboration is hard but gratifying work. And I think if we all did it, we’d have a greater appreciation for small presses—though not necessarily big wallets.


If I’m honest with myself, I can admit that I had a lot of big dreams and unrealistic ideas when I started Flaming Giblet Press. Couple that with the fact that I had just enough experience to make me feel like I “got it,” and you end up with a person who had no business being a publisher.

That’s not to say that I’m ashamed of the work I did. Far from it! I’m impressed by what I managed to accomplish despite of my limited time, resources, and skills. But it wasn’t until I worked on my own collection that I learned what I believe a press should be, and that made me feel a little guilty. I wanted to use my knowledge for the greater good. That’s why I joined Sundress Publications.

A quick overview of Sundress: it’s a woman-founded, woman-friendly publication group. Currently, Sundress has nine editors, not counting the editors of its affiliated journals. (Each journal is autonomous and retains its own staff, standards, and guidelines.) Together, they form a committee that runs the collective.*

I’d worked with Sundress off and on since 2006 but didn’t join the board until late 2011, after my second book, The Bone Folders, dropped. The impetus came while collaborating with founder Erin Elizabeth Smith on the book’s design; we talked a lot of “game” and found ourselves philosophically aligned. It wasn’t long before Erin asked me why I wasn’t formally working for/with her.

One of the things about Flaming Giblet—what drove me initially—was the desire to publish books that were somehow “unpublishable,” and I think some of that drive has bled over into Sundress. We only publish books we love, of course, but they rarely come to us in perfect pre-print condition. Thus, we foster, support, and provide feedback at every stage of the editorial process.

All submissions pass through our board, where members comment on and vote in favor of or against the manuscript. Once a majority is reached, we contact the author. If the book is rejected, we pass along our comments, offering suggestions for revision, alternative outlets, etc. If we accept the book, we work with the author on everything from order and selection to fonts and cover art.

That level of collaboration demands significant investment. For this reason, we can’t take on projects lightly. You’re probably reading this and thinking that we’re gluttons for punishment, crazed idealists. Maybe we are. When one considers what goes into the creation of a book—from concept to realization—it’s fair to characterize the entire process as masochistic and impractical.

But that’s okay. Small presses aren’t interested in the practical; if they were, they wouldn’t publish. (Seriously, do you know how crazy-making it can be?) It’s all about love, the kind best summarized by Charles Bernstein:

My advice to young poets is always: start your own magazine or press, and publish your own work and those of your contemporaries whose poems seem most crucial for the art. And if possible, respond as much as possible, through poetics and reviews, to this work. Articulate its values, value its articulations.

Sounds like big dreams. Unrealistic ideas.

Oh, hey—guess I’ve always been cut out for this.

*For more on Sundress, visit our webpage and the Women Publishers’ Roundtable on Delirious Hem.

T.A. Noonan is the author of Dress the Stars (Dusie Kollektiv, 2013), The Bone Folders (Sundress Publications, 2011), Petticoat Government (Gold Wake Press, 2011), Darjeeling (Ahadada Books, 2008), and Balm (Flaming Giblet Press, 2006). Her work has appeared in Ninth LetterVerse DailyRHINOspecsPhoebeHarpur Palate, and many others. Currently, she lives on Florida’s Treasure Coast with her husband and serves as the Associate Editor of Sundress Publications and Managing Editor of its imprint, Flaming Giblet Press.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The AWP High

AWP 2013 is over.


Frankly, I’m already excited for 2014’s Seattle conference. How could I not be stoked about a west coast adventure?

I’ve been going to AWP since I started grad school. When I started going, it was an excuse to get out of Boca and see a new city. Oh, and listen in on some panels. The end result, at least the first year, was a brief and embarrassing moment in a museum (there may have been an incident with a crucifix, the YMCA, and a professor), the top of the Sears tower (or Willis tower—whatever), and this extreme high.

Since, AWP has served its important purpose of reminding me, especially when times are dark, that yes, I do want to be a writer. That my M.F.A. was a good investment. Totally worth the student loans.

AWP as a grad student can simply be described as overwhelming. There are not enough minutes in the day to go to panels, navigate the book fair, and see a pretty awesome city. At the conference, you find yourself wishing you had clones in order to do everything.

As a non-student, AWP is more of a jarring realization that you’re not publishing enough, your hair is not cool enough, and that you probably should invest in more clothes from Urban Outfitters, despite your age and desire to dress they way they do in the Hamptons (minor digression). But what makes AWP an important pilgrimage for me is the high. It’s inebriating being surrounded by others who love the pain and suffering of being a writer, as I do. The intellectual conversations about writing and craft are intoxicating.

The buzz begins upon arrival to the airport. Since I live in Charlotte, my airport is often a stop for many AWPers. I can usually spot a fellow AWPer at the gate with his or her hip clothes and small press books. Often they travel with a friend who is there to boost his or her ego. So and so wrote a blurb for my book and such and such press wrote I was a revelation. You know the type. Regardless of the fact that I can’t boast any such thing to anyone, I still get excited to see my peers at the airport, then again at the book fair, or at a reading.

The high peaks at the conference thanks to all the energy of the fellow writers around you. It’s like you’re home.

In my Charlotte life, I don’t have a circle of writer friends. Most of my contacts are either high school teachers (like myself) or work in racing (like my husband). My daily conversations are not about craft and books or stories found on small presses. Most of my friends don’t know what Ploughshares is. At AWP, it’s different. Everyone there is a writer. This is so comforting because writing is a lonely experience.

Then when you actually get home you have all these ideas, which you hopefully wrote down. Your writing year has been refreshed. You remember why you signed up for all the heartbreak and nights of bad food choices and reading theory.

For all of this: the pain and suffering, the memories, the kick in the ass to get writing and published, the ideas, the confirmation that you are following your calling,  you can only thank AWP. 

Gloria Panzera resides in Charlotte with her husband. Her writing appears in The Inquisitive Eater, Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles and others.

Monday, March 11, 2013

On Browsing Wisely

Due to time spent in front of a computer that’s over the years led to a vast knowledge of things that matter very little – Taylor Swift is 5’11,” everyone! – I’m known among family as President and CEO of the Internet. I’ve also developed a bit of a reputation in the MFA program for excessive Googling (my classmates’ names, mainly). So I really felt I’d earned it, felt I’d finally arrived, when I received an email from our friendly graduate advisor soliciting a blog entry on blogs. She’d apparently heard from our creative writing director that I “had a good understanding of which blogs are reading-worthy.” My status as blog stalker in residence preceded me, and I was gleeful triumphant proud.

Until I realized she’d heard wrong.

I do follow twenty-three blogs (TWENTY-THREE), and sure, I can point the way if you’re looking for commentary on celebrity children from the perspective of a celebrity child (Suri’s Burn Book). If you’re interested in nonstop hilarity that involves taxidermy more often than not, hit up The Bloggess. Fav resource for all things pop culture? Vulture. Looking for somewhere to revel in feminism and femininity (along with Zooey Deschanel)? HelloGiggles. In need of DIY inspiration? Young House Love. Have a friend/acquaintance/frenemy whose wedding website you can’t seem to find? You just let me know. Have a meme to show me I that I haven’t seen yet? It’s adorable that you think that. I have Googled “Google,” people. I kept webcam vigil over a pregnant giraffe in the days leading up to the birth. I have seen the whole internet.

Oh. Except for all the literary sites, that is. Of which there are many. Of which many are good. And it’s shameful (not as shameful as the giraffe thing, but shameful) that I – that many of us, I’d guess – have not been taking advantage. It’s not that I’m suddenly down on downtime (People.com, I don’t even want to know how to quit you), it’s that I’ve realized that we as writers should be spending a little more of it on literary pursuits.

The beauty of blogs is that they’re a direct line to the lives, thoughts, insights of others. To news, to opinions, to questions that might get us thinking, that could get us writing. There’s nothing wrong with doodling around in less-than-intellectual corners of the internet, but easy access to the wisdom and musings of other writers and readers is something we should not be passing up.

So I made it my mission over the past month to squeeze some blogs of a literary nature into my busy browsing schedule. Here’s the deal:

         -     Many of us are probably aware of Writer’s Digest, but check out the editor blogs for thoughts on everything from craft to publishing.

         -     Another publication you may know of that has a blog you should know of: Brevity. Visit for the self-described “creative nonfiction miscellany,” which is, as promised, miscellaneous, and also helpful or thought provoking or humorous or all of the above.

         -     If you haven’t yet experienced The Rumpus, you, my friend, are in for a TA-REAT. You can peruse blog posts here, but the whole site is like a playground for fans of pop culture and the arts, only with essays, reviews, poems, comics, interviews, etc. instead of slides and swings and stuff.

         -     Bookslut is, first of all, called Bookslut. If that’s not reason enough to visit, in this monthly online magazine/daily blog “dedicated to those who love to read,” you’ll find, as the site says, “a constant supply of news, reviews, commentary, insight, and more than occasional opinions.”

         -     At Writer Unboxed, you’ll find posts on writing and the writing life from countless contributors (I mean, I guess I could have counted them), which means multiple voices, multiple perspectives. Really, no one person has all the answers when it comes to writing, so here you have a shot at finding a voice, or voices, that might speak to you.

         -     OK, so, The Second Pass, brainchild of the New York Times’ John Williams, has been on hiatus for more than a year, but hear me out: it’s really worth clicking around. The content might be ‘old,’ but it’s good. Some of the last blog posts from before the break feature correspondence between writers, and the letters are really neat to read.

         -     In addition to her writing blog, new media guru and editor Jane Friedman (former Writer’s Digest publisher) offers on her site a “Writing Advice Archive” where you can find (wait for it…) writing advice in one easily accessible, user-friendly spot.

         -     Maud Newton, widely published and praised (check out her About page), writes a great blog that offers, as she puts it, “occasional literary links, amusements, culture, politics, and rants.”

         -     I’m not exactly sure who’s behind Moody Writing, but I know I liked the first entry I saw, in which the writer mourns not being able to snoop at what others are reading on public transit because of coverless e-readers… while pulling out a Kindle. The blog is full of lengthy entries on various elements of craft. It’s worth perusing and deciding for yourself which ideas/advice hold merit/resonate.

         -      I stumbled upon Kim’s Craft Blog in doing research for Teaching Creative Writing and find author Kimberly Davis’ craft lessons to be quite accessible and often illuminating.

         -     And clearly I’m not the first person to attempt such a compilation, so here are some “best” lists:


          -      Also, Twitter, if you’re into that sort of thing*. This is obviously a very brief and kind of random selection, but most publications and a great many authors tweet. Following their feeds is a fantastic way to ingest writing-world goings on in small and timely bites.
@judyblume (Her tagline is “Are You There, Twitter? It’s Me, Judy” – !!!!!)

*I am. @RisaAriel if you’ve a tolerance for nonsense.

Risa Polansky Shiman, who lives on the internet and also in Delray Beach, is in her third year of FAU’s MFA program. You can find her latest published work, a piece on comedy as feminist rhetoric, in Harlot.