Upcoming Readings from PS Books Authors

Author Events

Thursday, October 13, 7pm: Birthday Reading at Penn Book Center
Join PS Books authors at this reading/signing at the Penn Book Center (130 S. 34th Street).

Sunday, October 23, 7pm: River Reads 2016 Book Festival, Stockton, NJ
The River Reads 2016 Book Festival will feature a day of readings and author signings from over 40 authors from the Delaware River Valley.

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11th Annual DFH Poetry Contest

Author Events, Writing Tips

Summer is here, and if you’re over 21, we might have just the thing to keep you cool and occupied: The 11th Annual Dogfish Head Poetry Prize. It’s a full mid-Atlantic poetry contest with some great prizes. Obviously you have a little under two months to write up some poetry, but don’t slack! The guidelines are as follows:

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 The Eleventh Annual Dogfish Head Poetry Prize for the winning book-length manuscript by a poet residing in the Mid-Atlantic states (DE, MD, VA, PA, NJ, NY, WVA, and NC) will consist of $500, two cases of Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Beer*, book publication by Broadkill River Press,  and 10 copies of the book (in lieu of royalties).

The rules are: Manuscripts must be received by midnight, September 2, 2013 (Labor Day).  Manuscripts received after Labor Day will not be considered.  Eligible poets must reside in the above listed states and be twenty-one years of age or older by the date of the award. *  The manuscript is to be submitted electronically in one MS Word document attachment.  Send to Prize co-ordinator Linda Blaskey at dogfishheadpoetryprize@earthlink.net.  Snail mail submissions will not be accepted.

Send two title pages with each submission: one with the title of the manuscript, your name, address, phone numbers and e-mail address; the second with just the manuscript title.   No manuscript is to have any author-identifying information other than the one title page and will be rejected if it does.   The manuscript should have an acknowledgement page of poems previously published, and in which publications and/or web-sites they appeared.  Judging is blind and double-tiered.

The manuscript must be book-length (between 48 and seventy eight pages of original work – no translations) and no more than roughly  thirty lines to a page, including the poem’s title and two line-spaces between the title and the body of the poem.  A poem may be more than one page.  The book’s dimensions will be 8.5 inches by 5.5 inches, with a minimum of half-inch side margins, and printed in 12 point type, so avoid very long lines.

The award will be presented to the poet on Sunday, December 8, 2013 at the Dogfish Head Brewpub and Restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.  The winner must agree to attend this event and to read from their winning book at a reception honoring the winner.  The prize will be officially awarded by Sam Calagione, Founder and CEO of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Distillery, or by another company official.

The author of the winning manuscript also agrees to provide, within ten days of notification, a color head-shot photograph for the back cover and a dedication for the interior of the book.  The winner agrees to travel to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware at the winner’s expense for awarding of the prize.   Dogfish Head will provide the winner one night’s lodging in Rehoboth Beach where Dogfish Rehoboth Brew Pub and Restaurant is located.

Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales retains the right to use any of the winning work in promotional materials.

For questions and more information contact Linda Blaskey, Prize co-ordinator, at linblask@aol.com

Good Luck!

Rosemont Writers’ Retreat: Showcase Night Faculty Reading Part II

Author Events, Interviews

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Anne Kaier’s poetry and nonfiction has been published or is forthcoming in journals and publications such as Philadelphia Poets, The Gettysburg Review, Apiary, Paradigm, The Kenyon Review, and other publications. In a 2012 interview, her poetry was called, “seductively rhythmic and precise,” and Philadelphia Stories asked her how she remains successful and how she strives for truth in nonfiction writing.

As writers, we sometimes overuse our words. How do you keep your vocabulary fresh and new?

A very interesting question.  I ‘d love to hear what you do!  I find that when I am completely absorbed and feel very passionately about my subject, words often come directly.  These are the best.  However, most of the time, I find myself hung over my keyboard, searching and searching, knocking my head.  I also write many drafts, especially of essays, so on the first few drafts, I’m usually more concerned with the structure of the piece and less with individual word choice.  In later drafts, I go back and back, trying to find strong verbs and descriptions will startle the reader. Perhaps since I’m also a poet, I also pay attention to the rhythms, even the meter, of sentences, using anapests if I want to hurry a sentence up or iambs if I want to give a concluding sentence a sense of resolution.  I guess it’s also true that I read a lot, so I am always on the outlook for words that can be pilfered.

Do you find that writing you do in the heat of the moment is your most successful writing, or do you write in a process and revisit old writing over time, until it is finished?

 

I may have partly answered this above.  These days, I’m mostly writing fairly long essays.  They involve research into primary sources and come out to be at least 5,000 words, so a fair amount of thought and early drafts go into figuring out the structure. I sometimes try out various possibilities.  For example, I may write one draft in the present tense, perhaps just to get my mind and senses closer to the scene I’m describing.  Then I may decide to put the whole thing into the past–for greater credibility.  Sometimes, I may decide to write an essay as a fairly simple straightforward narrative.  Or I may decide to try it as a lyric essay, done in non-linear ways.  So all of this gets in the way of writing in the heat of the moment.  I will sometimes use paragraphs written earlier, in the heat of the moment, but mostly the work their way in to a final version that is, in fact, the 8th or 9th full draft.

What would you say to a writer who believes her life story is not “interesting” or “worthwhile” enough to tell?

 

Oh, Lord.  Even the most exciting life stories can be made deadly dull with bad writing.   Good writing, writing that is clear and sensuous and well-constructed, brings the reader into the life you are describing.  One of the main reasons people read memoir, I think, is to feel they are not alone in the world, to feel that other people have lived lives that are as ordinary and as complicated and difficult and exhilarating as their own. So even the most ordinary life, well-told, can be mesmerizing.

What is the most difficult part about nonfiction or memoir writing?

 

Reliving the past.  Going back to the person you were or might have been and trying to make that person vivid to a reader. You have to characterize yourself, as if you were a fiction writing creating a character. So you have to try to look at yourself fairly objectively, which can be utterly embarrassing and difficult.  For an essay I wrote a few years ago, I had to reread letters I have written home from England when I was a student there. Oh God, they made me cringe! They were so fey and affected.  All memoirists have to confront less than splendid versions of themselves, too.  I also find that in this market, readers can be very judgmental–expecting a character to go through almost formulaic stages of hard times and bad deeds and salvation at the end. The salvation or reformation at the end bit drives me crazy.  I hate pat endings.  I also try hard to tell the truth about myself and my feelings–as clearly as I can discern them.

In an interview with, columnist Nicolette Milholin, you said that a poet struggling to find his or her own voice should, “Just try to be honest. Try to tell the truth.” Have you ever written something and had a family member or friend disagree completely? What does personal perspective mean in terms of writing memoir or poetry?

 

Another excellent question. All memoir is a story we tell ourselves about the past.  There simply is no such thing as objective truth.  All you can do is try to be as honest as your memory allows you to be, check the facts whenever possible and don’t make anything important up out of whole cloth. My family sometimes remembers events differently than I do.  I don’t concern myself much with that unless the family member has hard core evidence to support their version.  However, I go out of my way to try to check facts. I’m currently writing an essay set in Paris about getting some medicine for my skin condition that helped me very greatly when I first went there to take it. [The meds were not available at that time in the US].  I’ve done research in the Penn Medical School library, going through old medical journals by hand in the stacks in order to learn more about how my medicine was understood and used in the early 1980s, when I first took it.  I also spent a few days reading French medical journals at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Philly, for the same purpose.  My French is just good enough to get the gist of things.  Then I have to sit down with a dictionary –and ultimately ask a good friend who really reads French to help me. But I want to recreate as much as possible the reality of the times I’m writing about.

This answer strayed away from the family question.  Although I write about my family of origin–my parents and brother– we are Irish Catholics and don’t talk easily about the past. My brother, who is a very sweet man and admits he doesn’t have a good memory, still has sometimes remembered incidents in ways that are different from my memories.  If he can substantiate his memory with facts, I accept the differences. I always look into them. But if it’s just a question of a differing recollection, I use my own version, and don’t worry about the differences. For example, I wrote a piece about visiting the Grand Canyon when my twin bro and I were 10.  I remembered a drive through the desert in a car and set an important scene in the car. When I talked to my brother, Ed remembered that we had taken a train from Albuquerque to the Canyon, but he hadn’t kept train tickets or any hard evidence. If he had, I would have felt compelled to rewrite the scene. I checked to make sure you could rent a car in New Mexico in those days. You could. So I left the scene in the car and didn’t worry about it.  After all, a memoir is, fundamentally, a story we tell ourselves about the past–not to mention the fact that I had already written the scene in the car, it was a good scene and I didn’t want to rewrite it if I didn’t have to…

Anne Kaier will be teaching “Tell Your Story: Memoir” at the weekend Rosemont Writers Retreat on June 24-28.

Rosemont Writers’ Retreat: Showcase Night Faculty Reading

Author Events, Interviews

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J. C. Todd has been chasing images since childhood. Her poems have received awards from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Leeway Foundation, and Poetry Society of America. She teaches at Bryn Mawr College and in the MFA program at Rosemont and holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College.

For J.C. Todd, writing goes beyond observation and fragmentation. While reading “That Night and After,” a poem from the collection, “What Space This Body,” I was instantly pulled into her imagery and sense of nostalgia in her sensory details. I endeavored to find more about her creative processes.

Poet Robert Bringhurst has called your poetry, “not mere observations but observances.” How do you take a step beyond simply seeing and into something more? How do your observations become those observances?

When the brilliant Canadian poet, Robert Bringhurst, blurbed my first chapbook, Entering Pisces, he was teaching me art and craft as well as offering an estimate of the poems. Observation is, first off, paying attention, or as poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in his journal in the 1850’s, “What you look hard at, looks hard at you.” By paying attention, I am initiating communication with what we observe. It reveals itself to me and I reveal myself to it. But when a writer acknowledges that observation is a sacred act, then her language opens to the ceremony or ritual of observation. That is observance. The words share a root, but, whereas observation might record a surface appearance, observance adheres to inherent form. Even when they seem wholly new and original, poems or any writings that are observances accept that they also are in relation to ancient rituals and designs. They are communicating with archetypal patterns.

Do you write with a target audience in mind, or purely for self-expression? Is it important for your writing to always reach an audience?

 

I don’t think of “my audience,” I think of listeners and readers. Poems, however, are performative; even when they are not read aloud, they are heard by the voice in the reader’s mind. So, there is an audience. I don’t think of an audience in early drafts when I am putting “the scene before my eyes” and following it, putting down details, feelings, associations. Paying attention to what I see and to what matters –that’s the preoccupation of early drafts. In later drafts, I’m exploring how this instance participates in and reveals a universal pattern. That’s when I think of the readers, of what they need to know and the order in which they need to know it to see what I see.

How do you know when a poem is complete and ready for publication?

I don’t know this; I feel it. When the poem is full to the brim without spilling over, when it holds its parts in perfect tension, then it is complete. But there are poems that I abandon when I’ve gone as far as I can go but it’s not far enough. These poems usually go into the drawer.

Would you describe your writing process as fluid or fragmented? Does your writing usually pour from you in a single sitting, or do you find that revisiting material over time allows your best work?

 

The first writing—not even a full draft—is a burst; after that I’m working to preserve the energy and impulse of the burst and follow it into something more beautifully crafted. My mother liked handwork—sewing, knitting, embroidery. She would rip out stitches that weren’t right. Getting it right gave her satisfaction and pleasure. Like her, I appreciate revision, even when it is ruthless, as a process of making art. Writing is not for the faint of heart.

What is the best advice you have ever had about how to be more creative?

Keep at it. Writing leads beyond the self.

Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?

I wrote rhymes as soon as I could spell, but the first poem was written in response to the battle of Triangle Hill during the Korean Conflict.

What inspired you to pursue poetry?

I came to poetry because there was nowhere else to go.

J.C. Todd will be teaching “Writing the Wild Blue Yonder: Following Image into the Unknown” A generative workshop for writers of all genres at the weekend Rosemont Writers’ Retreat on June 24-28.

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Joe Kulka has illustrated more than twenty children’s books and has written and illustrated four of his own. His book, “Wolf’s Coming!” won the 2009-2010 South Carolina Picture Book Award, 2008 Wanda Gag Award for the Best Book to Read Aloud to Children, 2007 Bronze Medal Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, and was chosen as a best book and by School Library Journal in 2007. Joe provides some insight into his creativity and the logic behind writing and illustrating for children.

How do you keep your illustrations and stories new and exciting?

I am blessed/cursed (depending on your point of view) with a very fertile imagination. I have a lot of ideas that I think would make fun illustrations or good stories. I draw or write every single day. My sketchbook is my playground where I can draw out all sorts of bad ideas and try and convince myself with a little work they could become good.

Oh, and I steal. Profusely.  If I see something I like, I steal it. Then I hide it, regurgitate it, add some seasonings and claim it for my own. Example – I love buying those big coffee table books  “The Art of …”  whatever cool animated movie just came out. I flip through the book and see how their characters are designed or the colors used for a particular background and I steal. I use a similar palette on a piece I am working on, or I’ll like they way they drew a tree trunk and I’ll draw my own in a similar fashion.

How do you keep from repeating yourself?

Having a pile of sketchbooks filled with various ideas helps. I have more ideas than I have time to get them all done.

Do your illustrations spark stories or do your stories spark your illustrations?

Both. I’ll sometimes write a story without doing a single sketch. Just sit down and type. Other times I’ll be sketching something and I add something weird to it and that sparks an idea for a story. Example – I was drawing a banana in my sketchbook and added a mustache to it. It evolved into a character Professor Banana that I’m toying around with now- trying to figure out how wrap a story around him.

What is the process behind your work?

 

Usually I’ll get an idea that I get all excited about and I’ll crank out a bunch of sketches or whip out a story. Then I’ll walk around patting myself on the back, telling myself what a genius I am. Then I put it away for a few weeks. Somehow a few weeks later I realize I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am. Usually the story is just awful or plain stupid.

Sometimes though I’ll get one that still seems pretty good but has rough patches that needs fixing. That’s when the real work begins and the heavy lifting of revision happens.

If I get it revised enough where I think it is good enough to send to my editor than I do so. If he likes it enough to offer feedback, then I usually revise some more. Happily this sometimes actually results in a sold manuscript. During this point I have most likely created a bunch of sketches of at least the main characters and a crucial setting or two. When the manuscript is finalized I then go about making a storyboard – a single sheet of paper with 32 little boxes containing rough sketches of each page. This allows me to see the entire book in one glance. I can now focus the pacing and flow of the book and make adjustments to the sketches. I may make a few tweaks to the text at this point – usually eliminating text that is not necessary because it is being shown in the illustrations. After the storyboard is finished I will do a dummy – much tighter sketches and final text in place. Lastly comes the process of creating the final illustrations. I may work in watercolors, gouache or oil paint. Mostly I have been working digitally using Corel Painter and a Wacom tablet as my virtual studio.

Some people believe that writing children’s stories is easy. In what ways do you think writing stories for a child is more, or just as, challenging as writing for an adult audience?

Sometimes writing a children’s story can be easy. You may occasionally be hit with a lightning bolt of an idea and knock out a great story in no time. 90 percent of the time that does not happen. The hardest part of writing for children is making sure the words you use are the best ones. Because the word count in a picture book is so small each word has to be correct. You also need to be aware of your audience. A lot of writing for older audiences takes for granted that there is a certain level of knowledge and understanding present in the reader. You can’t assume that with children. Most are not reading your book, rather it is being read to them.

While I never think you should talk down to children in your writing, you also need to be aware of what their level of understanding is. As adults we can reasonably assume that because Mr. Jones is wearing a different outfit on page 8 from the outfit he was wearing on page 4 he is still the same person. A young child may see that as two completely different characters. That is why you rarely see a character in a children’s book dressed differently.

Where does your inspiration come from?

My children provide inspiration for some ideas. There are things I recall from my own childhood which I like and think other children like too – like dragons – that inspire me.

I think most inspiration happens though when you are just paying attention to your surroundings. There always seems to be something happening that if you take the time to think about it could be a pretty good story. It might be as simple as hearing or better yet mishearing a fragment of a conversation in a restaurant or on a train.

How do you keep in touch with your inner child?

I have all kinds of toys in my studio. I have Ampy, my stuffed white gorilla, sitting here next to my computer staring at me. He was Hobbes when I was Calvin. I can also vividly recall some of the pains of growing up, the fears of being a child. I think remembering not only the good times as a child but the not so good ones helps when you write for children.

Your visits to elementary schools are described as, “motivating and encouraging.” In what similar ways do you hope to inspire writers at the Rosemont Writers’ Retreat?

Writing or drawing is a marathon, not a sprint. With decent health, it literally is something you can do your entire life. What you want to do is get the tools needed to become the best artist/writer you are capable of. When I teach, my philosophy is to focus on the positive and foster an encouraging atmosphere. It takes a great deal of personal courage to show your work to someone else. If you are in my class I will offer criticism of your work, but it will always be in a way that encourages you to push beyond where you are to what you can become.

Was there someone in your childhood who motivated you to create, or influenced you in your decision to become a children’s book writer?

I was very fortunate to be mentored by Robin Heller, a local illustrator where I grew up.  I used to go to his studio every weekend from 7th grade through high school and see what he was working on as well as deliver my weekly illustration. This was where I realized I wanted a career as an illustrator. I also loved going to the library when I was young. I remember riding my bike there and spending hours reading and looking at various children’s books. In grade school I particularly loved the book, “Danny and the Dinosaur.” I recall thinking how neat it would be to have my own dinosaur or at least to be able to draw one in a book.

Joe Kulka will be teaching “Writing Children’s Picture Books” at the weekend Rosemont Writers’ Retreat on June 24-28.

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Randall Brown is editor of Flashfiction.net, founder and editor of Matter Press (a community-based non-profit at Rosemont), was an editor at SmokeLong Quarterly, and has written a collection of short fiction called Mad to Live. Randall has over eighty flash fiction pieces available to read on his website www.randall-brown.com, and after reading my way through some of the list, I wanted to know more about flash fiction and how he packs so much power in so little of a story.

What stigmas or biases come with writing in the genre of flash fiction?

 

Some people equate the short time it takes to write a flash fiction piece with something “easy to do.” And it is hard to argue that it isn’t easy to finish a piece that might be a few hundred words. But it is harder to make it flash with brilliance.

What can flash fiction do for a reader that a novel cannot? 

 

It can give you something complete & memorable in a single sitting.

Where would you encourage new flash fiction writers to publish?

 

There are very few journals that don’t accept flash fiction. Find a journal whose aesthetic you like and send them your best work.

Do you think websites like Twitter, where a writer is limited to 140 characters, helps or hinders flash fiction writers?

 

I think finding something other than “story” to use 140 characters for might be the challenge for writers who want to write Twitter fiction.

How do you choose which words are essential in a flash fiction story?

Reading the piece over and over again, trying to see what words I end up kind of “skipping” over.

Describe your writing process. How do you plan a flash fiction piece? Do you write it in length and eliminate, or do you limit yourself the very first moment you start writing?

I always set out to write a flash piece that is set against a word limit. It is often a title that comes to me first, some overheard snippet. I usually write not knowing what I’m writing about—and I write and rewrite to discover the story.

Randall Brown will be teaching “Fearless Flash Fiction” at the weekend Rosemont Writers’ Retreat on June 24-28.

Rosemont Writers’ Retreat: Showcase Friday and Charles Holdefer

Author Events, Interviews

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CHARLES HOLDEFER will be speaking at the noontime writers and readers series on Friday the 28th. 

While this will be the last noontime writer interview, that just means we’re only days away from the start of the Rosemont Writers’ Retreat! We will have more interviews throughout the week for you of the featured writers, so stay tuned.

Charles Holdefer is the author of four novels, most recently Back in the Game. His novel The Contractor was an American Booksellers’ Association “Book Sense Pick.” He attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Sorbonne. His fiction has appeared in the New England Review, North American Review and Slice. He also writes essays and reviews.

He is an essayist, reviewer, and the author of four novels.  I hope that Charles is happiest while writing as he claims in the interview below, because it seems he is constantly at work. Philadelphia Stories asked him more about his projects and the inspirations that make him successful.

You have published four novels. How long does writing one novel typically take for you? 

It’s taken me anywhere from two to twenty years. To be honest, it’s hard to say what’s typical.

How many different writing projects do you work on at once? Do you focus on a single piece until it is complete, or do you dart from project to project?

I often work on several projects. It’s a way to keep the ball rolling forward during periods of struggle. Even if it’s a short review or a little humor piece, it feels good to be producing something. I’m happiest when working.

 

From where do you draw your inspiration?

People, books, animals. Not always in that order.

How much of yourself goes into your characters? Have you ever “accidentally” based a character off someone in your own life?

Inevitably there’s plenty of myself in the characters but it’s still filtered through an entirely imaginary story. My books aren’t autobiographical. As for other people in my life, sure, I pilfer details about them. All the time. But no one I know makes a cameo appearance.

“Back in the Game” takes place in Iowa, where you grew up. Was it easier to write this story since you knew the setting so intimately? 

No, not easier. It was the first novel I ever started and I wrote and published three other books in the meantime while I was working on it. Parts of Back in the Game came out in some good magazines but in my head they were always pieces of a larger story. The novel kept getting bigger and bigger, it became a huge monster of a thing and got out of control. I have boxes and boxes of chapters. But anyway, to make a long story short, eventually some things clicked in my head and, as a consequence, I bit the bullet, very hard, and cut hundreds of pages. Got it down to one voice, three parts, a dozen chapters. Only about 60,000 words. A skinny book, in the end! I feel sort of stunned after the whole process, actually. I never would’ve dreamed that it would take so many years to get it right.

Charles Holdefer will be teaching “Novel Fundamentals” at the week long Rosemont Writers’ Retreat on June 24-28. Meet Charles on Friday, June 28, 2013 at the free noontime Writers and Readers Series, which will feature in-depth conversations about craft led by Rosemont MFA program director, Carla Spataro.