Thursday, November 17, 2011

Interview with UK Writer/Editor Mary Cook

Mary Cook is a UK-based writer and editor whose articles, short stories and poems have appeared in numerous publications, both in print and online. Her main writing interests are humour, horror and the writing craft.

A former beekeeper, she was commissioned to write a beginners’ book on beekeeping by Weaver Press in 1992. She was a spoof agony aunt for The Lark, an “adult” newspaper sold around the pubs in the Midlands. She worked as a reporter with the Skegness Standard newspaper for a number of years and has been a columnist for online writers’ magazines.

A Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist, she landed a job as overseas correspondent to the Tokyo-based Hiragana Times when returning from an annual pilgrimage to Head Temple Taisekiji in the foothills of Mount Fuji. She retired two years ago to the old market town of Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, England, with her husband Nick and their adored Border terrier Brucie.

Her poetry ebook Collywobblers (InkSpotter Publishing, 2008) was recently re-released as a Smashwords edition.

What motivated you to start writing?

In a word, poverty! Though perhaps I should explain that that's what motivated me to become a professional writer. I'd been writing as a hobby for as long as I can remember.

What is the primary source of inspiration for you?

I'm mainly inspired by the beauty of nature. Then my nasty mind gives it a malevolent twist.

Do you write when the muse strikes, or do you follow a writing schedule?

I'm the one who does the striking. I beat my muse with a big stick until the ideas come flowing out.

Please describe your process.

Oh, wow! That implies some sort of method. That's a concept that's quite alien to my disordered mind.

What have you done to promote yourself as a writer?

I write press releases. I used to be a reporter on a regional newspaper, so I know what works and what doesn't. Sadly, too many people think they have an absolute right to see their press releases in print. Not so—they have to grovel to somebody like me or their words end up in the waste bin or are deleted from the editorial computer.

What's left to do?

I'm doing what a lot of people my age do (I'm in my 70th year). I've started writing a novel, which I'll probably never finish. In fact, the only way it's likely to get in print is if it's published posthumously, in which case it will be a huge success because writers are usually only deemed to be of interest once they're dead.

When did you discover your unique voice? How long did the process take?

I like to think my voice has always been unique. It's that disordered mind at work again!

What do you consider your greatest achievement as a writer?

For the last few years before I became a senior citizen with a pension, I actually made a living as a writer. Admittedly, my needs are simple, which is just as well as I haven't made a fortune.

What's the most recent book you read?

Believe it or not, it was The Official DSA Guide to Driving, The Essential Skills. Yes, I've actually started learning to drive at my advanced age. I haven't actually killed anyone yet, though if I did it would make great copy.

Who are the writers you admire most?

Oh gosh, you'll find me really boring now. I'm a devoted Jane Austen fan, and my favourite poets are Philip Larkin and Dylan Thomas. And I absolutely loathe Shakespeare. I think he's the most overrated literary figure of all time.

What's your best piece of advice for novice writers?

Read every piece of advice from established writers that you can possibly find. Then do things your own way.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Writing is the most rewarding and the most fun job imaginable. If you're not having fun with your writing, don't bother doing it. There are easier ways to earn a living.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sometimes a publisher gets lucky

Sometimes a publisher gets lucky.

Sometimes a manuscript comes in that has been vetted and edited by multiple hands and has a solid marketing plan...not to mention its own kick-butt cover art.

That's what happened to me with Lifelines.

The poetry collection was originally pitched to me during last year's Muse Online Writers Conference. There was no mistaking the effort and dedication of the co-authors, known collectively as The Poetic Muselings. They'd refined their manuscript through multiple versions and consulted with experienced mentors in developing their marketing plan. I knew, without a doubt, that I wanted to read their book.

A year later, Lifelines is a reality. available on Amazon and CreateSpace. Lin Neiswender's beautiful collage graces the cover, and her words share space on the inside with the five other Muselings (Michele M. Graf, Margaret Fieland, Anne Westlund, Mary W. Jensen and Kristen Howe).

True to their original pitch, The Poetic Muselings are putting every effort into marketing their book. They're a publisher's dream come true.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 5

Miniature portrait from
1593 that may depict
Aemilia Lanyer

Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 4

Ultimately, Aemilia calls out for equality between men and women, a world in which both sexes may realize personal autonomy.

     Then let us have our Libertie againe,
     And challendge to your selves no Sov'raigntie;
     You came not in the world without our paine,
     Make that a barre against your crueltie;
     Your fault beeing greater, why should you disdaine
     Our beeing your equals, free from tyranny?
                If one weake woman simply did offend,
                This sinne of yours, hath no excuse, nor end.

(Lanyer 1993, 87)

Boldly, she challenges the assume superiority of men over women. She is ahead of her time, as the saying goes, not for the thoughts but for their expression.

To this, Rowse glibly responds:

     Really, she might be a precursor of Women's Lib! ... this was what the
     menfolk -- the Lord Chamberlain who had discarded her, Alfonso who
     had taken her on unhappily, his actor-dramatist who had fallen for her,
     Forman who came to detest her -- had all had to put up with. We may
     legitimately, if modestly, conclude that men found her a bit much.
(Rowse, 28)

I suppose that is a fair enough comment, because I find Rowse a bit much as well. Sadly, his misogyny saw print as recently as 1978. For some people, very little has changed in 400 years.

Aemilia's book apparently failed to find an audience, and her life began a steady decline. Alphonso died in 1613, at which point she signed over the hay and straw monopoly to his brother, Innocent. The irony of her brother-in-law's name cannot be ignored. He apparently agreed to split the income with Aemilia, but he paid her only a pittance. Even when he passed the monopoly on to another brother, Clement -- also ironically named -- the latter reneged, too, despite repeated court orders.

Aemilia's attempt to run a school for children in the upper echelons only succeeded in leading her back to the courts. She sued her landlord for compensation for repairs she made to the building; he countersued for the rent she refused to pay. Somehow, she managed to achieve the status of pensioner -- one in receipt of a regular income -- by the time she died in 1645. Either her legal wrangling with Clement succeeded or she found other means of supporting herself. In any case, she was apparently never able to achieve her lifelong goal of re-entering high society.

As stated earlier, Aemilia's turbulent life may have helped form her "radical" opinions on the status of women. Her views permeate her poetry and prose. More than a theological curiosity, Aemilia is a prime example of the literary value of female writers of the Renaissance or any other period. There were only nine copies of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum known to exist as of 1996, and her book received minimal attention from scholars until relatively few years before that. Rowse gets the credit, although he demeaned her character, for finally bringing her work to the public eye in 1973.

All that matters now is that others are willing either to stand in her defence or present the unadorned facts and that her work is studied in context with Spenser, Marlowe and -- Heaven help us -- Shakespeare.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 4

Miniature portrait from
1593 that may depict
Aemilia Lanyer
Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 3

Rowse debunks Aemilia's focus on religion and virtue as mere posturing, an attempt to cover up the "fact" that men no longer found her attractive (24). Her history with men -- Lord Hunsdon in fact, Shakespeare and Forman in speculation --is treated as inseparable from her character. Rowse does not allow for the changes that maturity can work on even the wildest heart. Who else might he condemn to suffer forever the mistakes of their youth?

"Salve Deux Rex Judaeorum" is a retelling of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in the context of the ultimate crime of men (not to be confused with mankind, which includes both men and women). Aemilia's description of Christ's personality overflows with traits that might be defined as traditionally feminine.

     He was content to stoope unto their Lure,
     Although his Greatnesse might doe otherwise;
     Here Grace was seised on with hands impure,
     And Virtue now must be supprest by Vice,
          Pure Innocencie made a prey to Sinne,
          Thus did his Torments and our Joyes beginne.

     Here faire Obedience shined in his breast,
     And did suppresse all feare of future paine;
     Love was his Leader unto this unrest,
     Whil'st Righteousnesse doth carry up his Traine;
     Mercy made way to make us highly blest,
     When Patience beat downe Sorrow, Feare and Paine:
          Justice sate looking with an angry brow,
          On blessed misery appeering now.
(Lanyer 1993, 74)

This is all the more striking for his being brought down by men, whose representative traits stand in sharp contrast to Chist's qualities. Even Death, Sin and Tyranny are characterized as male.

"Righteousnesse doth carry up his Traine," from the above excerpt, presents the reader with the image of a bride marching down the aisle. One might infer that Aemilia saw her marriage to Alphonso as a personal sacrifice, one which forever removed her from the Royal court. Further on, the narrator says of the persecution, "Nor can their wisdoms any way discover, / Who he should be that proov'd so true a Lover" (Lanyer 1993, 80). Are you listening, Dr. Rowse? Sounds to me like Aemilia wishes that all men could be so true to love as Christ to his faith.

Aemilia holds many men accountable for the crucifixion, but guilt first falls on the head of the Disciple Judas. Although he is not named -- as if his very name would blight the tongue of the speaker -- his story is unmistakable.

     See thy Betrayer, whom too well they knowe,
     One of the twelve, now object of disgrace,
     A trothlesse traytor, and a mortall foe,
     With fained kindnesse seekes thee to imbrace;
          And gives a kiss, whereby he may deceive thee,
          That in the hands of Sinners he may leave thee.
(Lanyer 1993, 72)

The other Disiples abandon Jesus to his fate, "Though they protest they never will forsake him / They do like men, when dangers overtake them" (Lanyer 1993, 78). In other words, they protect their own backsides. Even Peter, as Christ predicted, denies him three times.

Aemilia goes on to suggest that man's responsibility for the death of Christ sheds new light on Eve's role in mankind's expulsion from Eden. While women wear the shame of Original Sin, Aemilia argues that Adam should be held accountable.

     Who being fram'd by Gods eternall hand,
     The perfect'st man that ever breath'd on earth;
     And from Gods mouth receiv'd that strait command,
     The breach whereof he knew was present death;
     Yea having powre to rule both Sea and Land,
     Yet with one Apple wonne to loose that breath
          Which God had breathed in his beauteous face,
          Bringing us all in danger and disgrace.
(Lanyer 1993, 85)

He was the physically stronger of the two, the master of Eden, in direct communication with God. Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge through the deception of the Serpent; she passed on the "gift" to Adam out of innocence and love. Adam knew better than she the consequences of the act and should have been able to resist temptation. Wherever one places the blame, Aemilia says, the persecution of Jesus is a far greater sin.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 3

Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 2

Not long after her marriage to Alphonso Lanyer, Aemilia may have become involved with William Shakespeare. According to Rowse, she was the inspiration for the Bard's infamous "Dark Lady."

Then again, Rowse also seems to believe every word of Forman's journal and interprets broadly from its contents in determining whether Aemilia succumbed to Forman. Moreover, he claims Aemilia "always exaggerated" (Rowse 34) and defines her strength of will in terms of "rampant feminism" (Rowse 20). His little asides are condescending in the extreme, like a sly nudge-wink to the reader, whom Rowse assumes will share his point of view.

Aemilia's one collection, Salve Deux Rex Judaeorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews), was first published in 1611.

The 11 prefatory pieces are dedications to various royal and noble women, as well as "To all vertuous Ladies in generall." Such blatant flattery as displayed in these pieces is well in keeping with the practice of the day. Stroke the right egos, specifically those attached to persons of wealth and power, and suddenly you are running with the In Crowd. In the following excerpt from "To the Queenes most Excellent Majestie," Aemilia opens with praise for Queen Anne, the wife of James I.

          Renowned Empresse, and great Britaines Queene,
          Most gratious Mother of succeeding Kings;
          Vouchsafe to view that which is seldome seene,
          A Womans writing of divinest things:
                   Reade it faire Queene, though it defective be,
                   Your Excellence can grace both It and Mee.
(Lanyer 1993, 3)

Early introduction of a self-deprecating tone does not hurt, either. The author humbly declares the undertaking to be beyond her meagre skills then goes on to (hopefully) meet the challenge.

In her short prose piece "To the Vertuous Reader," Aemilia fairly screams her reason for writing the main poem, "Salve Deux Rex Judaeorum." She feels that women in general -- and perhaps herself in particular -- have suffered undue slander from men and women alike. Men should remember they are born of woman, she asserts, and women should support their own. True to the life-hands-you-a-lemon tradition, Aemilia entreats virtuous women "not to regard any imputations, that they undeservedly lay upon us, no otherwise than to make use of them to our owne benefits, as spurres to vertue, making us flie all occasions that may colour their unjust speeches to passe currant" (Lanyer 1993, 49). If Rowse's Dark Lady theory is correct, this piece may be Aemilia's reaction to the 1609 publication of Shakespeare's Sonnets, in which the Dark Lady is so prominent a figure.

Whether Aemilia was truly the inspiration for the Dark Lady or merely perceived as such by the public, she would have considered the characterization to be libelous. In such a scenario, she would have struck back in kind, voicing her contempt with the printed word.

Aemilia's apparent reactionary stance is reinforced in the body of the main poem, wherein she writes:

          But woe to them that double-hearted bee,
          Who with their tongues the righteous Soules doe slay;
          Bending their bowes to shoot at all they see,
          With upright hearts their Maker to obay;
          And secretly doe let their arrowes flee,
          To wound true hearted people any way:
                    The Lord wil roote them out that speake prowd things,
                    Deceitfull tongues are but false Slanders wings.
(Lanyer 1993, 55-56)

She was clearly expressing her anger against those who wilfully spread falsehoods. One might safely assume that Aemilia herself was the target of such defamatory comment. However, if her invective was aimed at anyone in particular, such detail was not revealed to the reader.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Real Profit in Poetry

Common wisdom holds that there's no money in writing. And let's be honest, what little there might be for most of us -- assuming we're not Stephen King or the celebrity of the day -- rarely if ever finds its way into the hands of poets. 

Consider the image of the starving poet, huddled in his lonely garret, warming his fingers over a stubby candle so he can scratch out a few more inspired lines by that same meager light. With each word, he leaves another bit of his soul on the page. 

Romantic, isn’t it? 

Only if you’re inspired by your own suffering. I prefer to take my cues from outside influences. 

The natural world is rich in inspiring imagery, from the humble resting place of a slowly melting snowflake to the panoramic reach of the Rocky Mountains. No detail is too small to warrant your attention. And nothing is too large to be captured with a few carefully chosen words.

Strangers are another fine source of ideas. The less you know about them the better. Simply graft your imagination onto their physical attributes, and you’re well on your way to creating something unique. 

With its brevity of form, poetry excels at capturing a moment in exquisite detail. And somehow, magically, poetry sees past even the ugliest façade to the beauty within.

While poetry probably won’t pay the bills, it will most certainly enrich your life.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 2

Miniature portrait from
1593 that may depict
Aemilia Lanyer
Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 1

Aemilia soon moved on to the court of Elizabeth I and the bed of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon. At age 23, she became pregnant and lost her "favoured" status as mistress to the 68-year-old nobleman. Like any good employee, she walked away with a pension (he bought her off). Propriety demanded that her child have a legitimate birth, and she married Alphonso Lanyer.

Coincidentally, her new husband was a musician. He was also something of a businessman, having been granted a monopoly in the London hay and straw weighing market. In theory, two creative people united under the umbrella of a secure income should have been happy together. However, certain details have suggested that their marriage was not without problems.

After the birth of Lord Hunsdon's son, Henry, all but one of Aemilia's pregnancies ended in miscarriage. If Alphonso had any difficulty in accepting another man's son as his own then he must have been disappointed at siring a girl who died in infancy. One account has suggested that Alphonso was an abuser and a wastrel, depleting Aemilia's "severance" in his lifetime.

Aemilia may have felt trapped in her marriage and deprived of the luxuries to which she had become so accustomed at Lord Hunsdon's side. Being the Lord Chamberlain's mistress was more impressive than being a court musician's wife. She seemed bent on reclimbing the social ladder, either through her husband's promotion or her own publication.

Notably, much of what is known of the early years of Aemilia's marriage is attributed to a questionable source.

Her astrologer, Simon Forman, kept a journal on all his clientele. Her visits began on 17 May 1597 and continued for a few years. Forman considered himself something of a ladies' man. Although she may have entertained him in her home, Aemilia apparently refused his advances. His journals "are peppered with accounts of his sexual encounters, about which he is quite explicit [but] he records about Lanyer only his hope and disappointment" (Woods xxiv). He wrote from rejection and frustration when he characterized her as a whore and an incuba (Rowse 13).

IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT: Shakespeare's Dark Lady?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 1

Miniature portrait from
1593 that may depict
Aemilia Lanyer
Certain Renaiisance anthologies, such as The Literature of Renaissance England, focus on the writings of men, suggesting to the novice that there are no notable female writers from the period.

True, the better known works of the period were written by men, but women were represented as well. They possessed the talent but lacked the resources and encouragement more readily available to their male counterparts.

Women's poetry and prose do appear in print but generally in women's anthologies, as if unworthy of inclusion with the works of men.

The extension of the English Renaissance into the early 17th century opens up new areas of exploration. Janet Clare describes "the Jacobean period as a transitional moment for women seeking to gain access to the circulation, if not the publication, of literary works which were neither strictly devotional nor translations."

Female writers of the period were finding their voices, pushing past the restrictions on the forms their works could take.

One such writer was Aemilia (Bassano) Lanyer (1569-1645). The circumstances of her life were as intriguing as her poetry. One might conclude that the former influenced the latter, in which she expressed theological and political views best described a proto-feminist.

She was outspoken and combative, traits much in evidence in her later years. Aemilia had ample time to observe and experience life. By 17th century standards, living to age 76 was quite an accomplishment. Her opinions, as expressed in her poetry, were no doubt the result of her tug-of-war life. Each apparent advantage or opportunity seemed nullified by one misfortune or setback after another.

Aemilia's interest in writing seemed a logical progression from her family background. Her father, Baptista Bassano, came from a family of court musicians. Her mother, Margaret Johnson, may have been the aunt of musician Robert Johnson, attached to William Shakespeare's company. The bond between music and poetry was strong in 16th century England.

Aemilia lost her father when she was only seven; her mother died 11 years later. She was fostered in the home of the future Countess of Kent and later attached to the household of the Countess of Cumberland. In the latter case, Aemilia gained the advantage of a literary education. Her tribute to the Cumberland estate, "The Description of Cooke-ham," indicated her fondness for the family and her time spent with them. One should note that "Cooke-ham" was published, and possibly written, before Ben Jonson's more famous "To Penshurst," qualifying Aemilia's work as the first country house poem.

The wording of "Cooke-ham" also suggested that she sought the patroniage of the Countess of Cumberland, using the well-established tactic of flattery. Men were often successful with this approach, but female writers were not yet encouraged in their efforts, so noble patroniage was elusive.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Interview with Jéanpaul Ferro

An eight-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Jéanpaul Ferro’s work has appeared on National Public Radio, Contemporary American Voices, Columbia Review, Emerson Review, Connecticut Review, Sierra Nevada Review and others. He is the author of All the Good Promises (Plowman Press, 1994), Becoming X (BlazeVox Books, 2008), You Know Too Much About Flying Saucers (Thumbscrew Press, 2009), Hemispheres (Maverick Duck Press, 2009), Essendo Morti - Being Dead (Goldfish Press, 2009), nominated for the 2010 Griffin Prize in Poetry; and the recently released Jazz (Honest Publishing, 2011).  He is represented by the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency. Website: * E-mail

What motivated you to start writing?

I grew up in a small New England town that has a great history of artists and artistry. It’s home to the Scituate Arts Festivals, one of the biggest and longest running art festivals in the Northeast. The high school in Scituate was very big on music and the arts. They published their own literary journal, and I first starting contributing to this journal when I was 15 years old. I learned that I was a writer, and I haven’t stopped writing ever since.

What is the primary source of inspiration for you?

The greatest inspiration and source of writing for me is the pain and horror of life. You experience so many incredible situations in life, and you witness so many stories day by day as a human being that I find that I want to document these stories and situations. My poetry tends to be very topical, and I’ll write poetry about anything that may be happening in the world that day. For my short fiction and novels, I try to pick subjects that are closer to my heart; part fiction, part reality with a twist of surrealism, humor, and brevity.

Do you write when the muse strikes, or do you follow a writing schedule?

I can actually do both. There are times when I am in what I like to call “writing mode” that I am constantly writing from the time I get up in the morning to the time I go to sleep. I usually have to have a notepad by my side even when I’m relaxing, because new things keep coming to me that I want to use and so I have to write them down. There are days where I experience something or feel something and I simply write that one piece. But in more general terms, when I write poetry I’m usually writing an entire book of poetry. Same thing with short fiction. I usually don’t write just a short story but an entire book of short stories. When I do this I get up early in the morning and just begin to write. On those days I could write up to 16 or 17 hours in one day. I don’t need to eat. I don’t need to sleep. It’s almost as though I’m transformed and all I need is the writing. I’ve also learned that you have to carve out the time to write. For most people, there isn’t going to be a perfect time to write in your life, so you have to make the time. If 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. is all you have to yourself each day then you have to use that time period.

Please describe your process.

With poetry I usually have a theme in my head before I begin to write. I usually pick a title for the piece first. Once I have the title and theme, I simply picture a setting, a time, characters perhaps, and action that will take place. I then just set off to writing, and the poetry just flows and comes out itself. It’s a magical process, and what I write isn’t something I’ve plotted out. Also, I’m always surprised where the poem goes. It is as though someone else’s mind takes over and these pictures and turns of phrase and events happen in the poem, almost as though someone else wrote them.

With short fiction and fiction, I plot out everything in my head first. The characters. The setting. What takes place. The entire story or novel is done in my head first; usually I do this when I am driving into work. Once I know the whole story and all the characters, I write a plot out. I then set about to write the story or novel based loosely on the plot I’ve created and written down. More than that always comes out, but I find stories and novels are much cleaner and action driven if I do all the heavy lifting first. With the poetry, it’s more inspirational and abstract.

What have you done to promote yourself as a writer?

I have spent decades having my individual pieces—poetry, short fiction, photography—published in literary journals, newspapers and magazines. When I have a book published, I always send a note and press release to the publications that have published my work in the past. Ninety percent of them will then post a blurb on their website or on their Facebook page or in their latest issue about your new book. The editors I’ve worked with over the years have been some of my biggest supporters and champions. Same thing for my fellow writers. They will also post something on their websites or blogs about one of my new books. I’ve also tried to write book reviews, blogs and blurbs for other writers, which helps promote their work and your own at the same time. I have also bought ads for various publication newsletters and e-newsletters that go out, promoting my work. I also post links to my works or book reviews of my work on Facebook. I’ve also had some nice newspaper articles done about my writing that has opened a lot of doors. You also have to send press releases about your new books to all media outlets. Most won’t publish a book review, but many will publish a blurb. And some have actually done nice articles about my work; you never know who is going to want to write a piece about you.

What's left to do?

Well, there is a lot left to do. I recently signed with the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency, which has a great stable of authors they represent. They will be representing me on what will be called my debut novel, Torchlight Parade, even though it is actually the 20th novel that I’ve written. Finding a good home for this novel with a good publishing trade house is key. I’ve just completed writing a film script for one of my other novels, and I’ve also just completed writing two new collections of short fiction, so I’m at work right now placing this script and all 17 of these new stories. After 25 years of spinning my wheels, my work is suddenly surging forward like it’s on a big wave. I’ve never had as much fun writing as I’m having right now.

When did you discover your unique voice? How long did the process take?

My voice in my writing was there from day one. It is very different, and I go out of my way to not to be like everyone else. I think writers who are taught by professors all end up writing and sounding the same. I’ve tried to learn my craft from the writing greats of the last century—the Hemingways, Nerudas, Whitmans and Lovecrafts. I’ve spent years studying the greats and how they did things and what works and what doesn’t work, and I completely stay out of any conventional schools of writing. This has worked for me, and it’s nourished that voice that’s inside of me, that comes out on the page all the time.

What do you consider your greatest achievement as a writer?

I always think my latest poem or my latest story is my best, but at the moment I haven’t even come close to what I think can be my greatest achievement. Having my collection of poetry, Essendo Morti - Being Dead, nominated for the Griffin Prize in Poetry is a great honor. And having been nominated for eight Pushcart Prizes is extremely rewarding, and each nomination has come as a surprise.

Right now my new novel, Torchlight Parade, which my agent will be moving forward with, is my greatest achievement. I was offered representation by five different literary agencies, one agency calling the novel “special” and another stating that it was “an incredibly beautiful and entertaining novel.” So writing a full-length novel that moved five agents to want to represent me is probably my greatest achievement to date. I spent six months planning the novel out. It only took 14 days to write it. And now it’s on the verge of getting published. And the greatest thing in my mind is that Torchlight Parade is exactly the novel I set out to write. So having executed the book I wanted to create is probably the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.

What's the most recent book you read?

I’ve just read Our Former Lives in Art: Storiesby Jennifer S. Davis, a great, great short fiction author. Also, Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves.

Who are the writers you admire most?

I admire so many writers for so many different reasons that it’s hard to list them all. I love F. Scott Fitzgerald and fellow Rhode Islander, H.P. Lovecraft, simply because they had the “gift” as a writer the same way Rembrandt had the God given gift as a painter. Writing for them is sublime. And you can learn so much from their craft. Two other fellow Rhode Islanders that I admire are Cormac McCarthy and Jhumpa Lahiri. Both are very different from one another, but both weave an incredible tapestry through their stories that is very rare. I also love Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, John Fante, Chuck Palahniuk, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill and Truman Capote.

On the poetry side, I drift toward Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Galway Kinnell, Corrine De Winter, Walt Whitman, and also Bob Dylan is a big influence of mine.

What's your best piece of advice for novice writers?

Read. Read. Read! Read every great writer you can. Read the classic novelists, poets and short fiction authors and get to know what is being published now. Read the top-tier magazines and journals to see what is being published. Also, networking is key. Get to know the editors and publishers who publish your work. And get to know the editors who you want to publish your work. Help other writers also, no matter what position you find yourself in the literary world. Additionally, don’t get offended when an editor tells you what’s wrong with your story or poem. Listen intently and change those things next time around. Be humble. And write poetry and stories that matter.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

The thing that has left the biggest impression on me in the publishing business is how much others have helped me. I think as writers and human beings we need to help each other out more than we do. We need to be more supportive of each other. We need to put our egos aside and not base everything simply on money. Take that extra moment or two it takes to help someone else and help them. It makes for a better world and a better life. And at the end of the day write something great. Don’t worry about publication or fame. Just write the best you can and let the chips fall where they may.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Poem of the Month - Surfer Joe

Surfer Joe
by Betty Dobson

Each day you roll
past on your spindly bike
weaving along the pebbled road,
your vision
straight as a spoke. 

Where do your eyes lead? Away
from your smoke-gray shack and red-
blanket curtain over plastic

You first appeared
a twilight apparition
draped in rough crimson,
leaning on your sill
as I hid behind mine.

You still don't see me.

Your eyes must aim inward,
back to the beached Sixties,
counting on waves for an afternoon
trip. Weed in the night
carried your dreams of water-
wheels rolling

until the air leaked out.
They couldn't hold the path like you
or swallow the salt-water
vow.  Ten years
spent waiting then selling
what little you had
for a Florida reunion
of one.

Sold out, you crawled back
home.  Abandoned
vans and soft-hearted neighbors
held you loosely.

Now you ride by like a desert surfer,
in and out on the hour.
If I follow you out, where
will I find you?  Alone
on the dock, watching
your weed-grayed

reflection.  A derelict
boat wallows in the shallows,
engine rusted and
bones slowly
in a negligent embrace.

If you enjoyed "Surfer Joe" and want to read more of my poetry, please consider buying a copy of Paper Wings.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Literary Journal Selects Best for Wall Scrawls

The following is an official media release from Carolyn Howard-Johnson, a longtime associate whose career continues to colour me green.

Carolyn was a frequent contributor to my newsletters that were, InkSpotter News and Heritage Writer.

Her poetry also appears in my first anthology, Holiday Writes.

Editors of the literary journal Solo Novo Wall Scrawls Vol. 1 have announced that their new issue will include the poetry of UCLA Extension Writers' Program instructor Carolyn Howard-Johnson.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
The journal is published by Solo Novo Press, Carpinteria, California, and North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Editor Paula C. Lowe says, “Wall Scrawls is inspired by an Iowa farm house wall. Eighty years abandoned and orphaned, it is a 'hive of letters, a busy kitchen of words. Every kid with a can of spray paint somehow gets here and leaves his or her native tongue on the walls'.” One of those walls has become the cover art of this journal.

The selected poem by Howard-Johnson, "Inevitably Walls,” is inspired by the poet’s extensive travels where she has come upon walls that only occasionally impart hope for the future of mankind. A quote from the poem:

[This wall] like the one we found
years ago when we lost our way

in a dark forest somewhere
in Germany, cried when we

found it there—unexpected…

Howard-Johnson’s poetry appeared in literary journals like the Mochila Review, Banyan Review, Pear Noir, Manzanita and Poetic Voices. One of her poems won a reader award at The Pedestal Magazine.

Howard-Johnson has studied at UCLA with Suzanne Lummis, editor of Speechless the Magazine ( -- which featured her chapbook Tracings, winner of Military Writers Society of America’s Award of Excellence and published by Finishing Line Press.

The poet's literary novel, This Is the Place, has won eight awards. Her book of creative nonfiction has won three.

She is developing a new Celebration Series of poetry chapbooks with Magdalena Ball. Among them are She Wore Emerald Then: Reflections on Motherhood ( and Cherished Pulse: Unconventional Love Poetry ( She also advocates with authors as the author of the multi-award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers (

Learn more about Solo Novo and how to order a copy at:

If you have poetry-related news, drop me a line. Tell me a story. Show me a picture. I'll be happy to help you spread the word.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Poem of the Month - The Passionate Mama's Boy

Reputed portrait of
Christopher Marlowe
When I was studying Renaissance literature, the professor shared a few homage poems written by former students. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of reimagining the works of great writers like Shakespeare and Donne. So I set out to do just that.

After reading and re-reading Christopher Marlowe’s memorable pastoral poem “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love,” I felt ready to tackle the challenge. (I recommend you read the original poem now so you have a point of comparison between it and my version.)

I won’t force you to read the first two efforts. They turned out neither memorable nor pastoral. But I felt I really hit on something with the third and final attempt. So did the professor, who briefly channeled Spenser Tracy when she described the poem as “Cherce!”

(I should mention that “The Passionate Mama’s Boy” and its less illustrious predecessors were all written at a time when I was engaged in a…difficult…relationship.)

The Passionate Mama’s Boy
by Betty Dobson

Come live with me, be my lover -
Take no notice of my mother.
Just give her time, she'll hold you dear;
Besides, she's hardly ever here.

Between her job and her "friends",
Her busy schedule never ends.
You can rearrange the pots and pans,
Clean the cupboards, recycle cans.

Cook whatever suits your palate;
Feed me steak, tofu, or carrot.
I promise you'll receive a treat
Of flowers, fun, or something sweet.

I have nothing, love, without you
Except my butane barbecue.
Bring your cat, your books, your broom;
We'll let you have your own bedroom.

On nights when I'm not working late -
As long as mother's on a date -
We'll find a sitter for the cat
And overturn the welcome mat.

Believe in me, my offer's true -
I've had three years to think this through.
Don't take too long, please, to decide;
I've got to run and catch my ride.

Using classic poetry as direct inspiration is a great way to unlock your creativity. Why not try it with one of your favorites?

"The Passionate Mama's Boy" is included in my poetry collections, Paper Wings, currently available via