Guest Book

blacklives
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full-fox-print-color-corrected-reducedWelcome!  Please read some of my poetry while you’re here. Even if a post is two years old, they’re being read every day. They’re all current. Feel free to join the conversation. Lastly, treat this post as a Guest Book. Offer suggestions, improvements, requests or just say Hello! If you have a question concerning poetry or a poem, click read more at the end of this sentence and fill out the form. Continue reading

Rough Drafts | The Luckiest Man Alive

I’ve now written just over 50 percent of my novel. I’ve renamed it North of Autumn. I’ve fallen behind the last few days, around a thousand words short of where I should be. This is partly because the novel is transitioning and I haven’t fully worked out what should happen or how. Also, the short little fable that follows got me all snarled up. Not often I throw a fit when writing, but after the sixth revision I was losing patience. Part of the challenge is not just writing a fable, but a fable that makes sense within the context of the narrative. I didn’t set out to write a novel full of smaller tales, fables and short stories, but writing the novel at speed makes the writing spontaneous—as though the whole novel is more of an improvisation. The novel reminds me a little of a musical. Instead of the characters bursting into song, they burst into stories. Readers are either going to love it or hate it but then, given all the magical realism, one won’t be reading this book for its gritty authenticity.

Sean dangled the phone over his forehead. “I’m in Vermont.”
“Well,” said Louis, with a light French accent, “the house will be okay until you are there. Do you know when you will arrive?”
Sean exhaled. “Zoē is fighting me every step of the way.”
“Ah, I see.”
“And I may have been a guest at a house where I may have caused the catastrophic collapse of a floor and I may have promised to fix it.”
“I see. Then it is a good thing you are an engineer, Sean.”
This was followed by a momentary silence, and Sean added, “I don’t know when we’ll be getting there.”
“I’m sure you have heard the joke. If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
“Yes.”
“I can tell you,” Louis’ voice continued, “where I am now is never where I expected to be. One makes plans and to what effect? My father loved to tell me a story when I was little. I think it must be a common story.
“A poor farmer considers himself the unluckiest man alive.
“A cohort of soldiers with oxcarts has come to his fields. They bring the stones of a bridge, its viossuers and keystones, the stones of its spandrel and parapet, and the cobblestones that paved it. They strew his fields with these stones and the farmer can no longer plow.
“Years go by and the farmer is very poor. Then one day the mayor of a nearby town announces that a new bridge must be built before the arrival of the King. Seeing that the farmer has all the stones he needs, the mayor orders that the stones be collected and the farmer rewarded. This makes the farmer rich beyond his wildest dreams.
“Meanwhile, the bridge is built and the King arrives. He walks across the bridge. He gives a sharp cry of recognition and, in the very next moment, he drops dead. Many years before, you see, he had been told that so long as he never crossed the bridge, death would never find him; and so he ordered that the bridge be dismantled and all its stones scattered.
“The King, you know, considered himself the luckiest man alive.”

upinVermont | May 31st 2022

Rough Drafts | Zoē and Polyphemus

I’m nearing the half way mark through Stopping by Autumn. Zoē is the novel’s main character and moves through a world very different from that of the other characters. Unlike my first novel, which only has elements of magical realism, the second novel (taking place in the same fictional region of Vermont) glides whole-heartedly through the genre. The following passage takes place after Zoē wanders into a little village called Sled Island. The El Camino has broken down again and rather than wait with her father at the garage, she explores. (Tue 22nd — Being a rough draft, a just updated this with some minor changes, including the addition of Homeric Epithets.)

Further inside the store the shelves were full of books, souvenirs, toys, clothes, used books and handmade quilts. Some of the shelves were carved into the shapes of vines swollen with wooden grapes. The thick vines seemed to coil and stretch from one shelf to the next, growing thicker and hiding more of the shelves the further she went. 

Hidden among their coils were owls, hawks and gulls with gaping  beaks—all carved from the same dark wood. And if she looked twice the hawk might have vanished or the owl turned its gaze. Zoē walked quietly. An old woman with a cane across her lap was sleeping in a chair in the corner. There was a wisp of a beard trailing from her chin and her gap-toothed mouth hung open as she snored. Next to her was a room with sawdust and shavings spilling out. Zoē went to look and found a workshop. There were no windows, a workbench was in the middle, and broken toys were piled on the floor and spilled from open closets. A large man, as old as the woman, was hunched over the workbench. He wore a leather apron and peered through an elaborate jeweler’s monocle. The man had piled toys at one end of the workbench. One by one, as Zoē watched, he took them and with a small mallet broke them.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m makin’ spare parts,” the man gruffly answered.

“But you’re ruining new toys.”

The giant man looked up, still stooped over the workbench, slope-shouldered. “And you never know when a good toy’s gonna need fixin’. So you can’t have too many spare parts.”

Zoē glanced behind her. “You’re just taking them from the store.”

“That’s right.”

“But then there won’t be any good toys to buy,” Zoē answered factually.

“You’re a strange one,” said the man. He flipped up a lens and squinted through his monocle. “You’re a little off aren’t you? Not quite right in the head. Any other girl would have run off by now.” He let that sit, then said, “Come in here.”

Zoē went in and stood at the workbench, hands in her coat pockets. The man picked up a broom that had been leaning behind him and pushed the door shut behind her.

“Why did you do that?”

“What’s that you’ve got round your neck?”

“A necklace.”

“I see that,” answered the giant man, wiping his nose with the back of his hand, “but what’s that you’ve got hanging from the necklace.”

“My mother gave it to me.”

“Give it to me.”

“No,” said Zoē, “you’ll just break it.”

The slope-shouldered man didn’t answer at first. He rubbed his stubbled chin with the palm of his hand as though considering what next. “If you won’t give it to me then let me see it.” Zoē pinched the necklace and lifted the pendant so that he could see it. The giant man studied it and rapped the workbench with his knuckles. “What’s your name, girl?”

Zoē hesitated, then said, “Eudid.”

“Eudid?” asked the man. “Is that a Greek name?”

“Yes,” Zoē answered. “Do you want to see the pendant?”

“Yes!”

“Then let me look through your monocle. If you let me look through your monocle, I’ll let you look at my pendant.”

The giant man stood and took a deep breath. His broad chest expanded and his sloped shoulders rolled. Then he went to Zoē, towering over her. He took off his monocle and gave it to her. Zoē at once saw that he couldn’t see without it—or not very well. She slipped out from between him and the closet, and went to the other side of the workshop. The man tried to see where she went, squinting, but seemed unable to see her. “What are you doing?” he asked.

Zoē went to the workbench. She put down the monocle and picked up the mallet that he’d left on the workbench. “I’m making spare parts,” she answered.

“For what?” he answered.

“For your monocle.”

“How will you do that?” he asked.

“Like this.” She smashed the monocle with one blow. The lenses and tiny gears burst across the workbench and fell to the floor.

 “No!” cried the man. “He swept his arms ahead of him.”

Zoē held onto her necklace, hunched low and scurried along the opposite side of the workbench. The giant man turned, eyes fiercely squinting. When he went behind the workbench, Zoē hurried to the door, opened it and ran back into the store’s displays.

“Eudid!” the man cried.

“Good lord. What’s all the alarm?” The old woman had woken, and was as unable to see as the slope-shouldered man. She clumsily pushed herself upright and swung her cane back and forth.

“My monocle!” roared the man in the doorway.

“What about it?” asked the old woman.

“She broke it!”

“Who did?”

“Eudid!” he roared.

“I did not!” the old woman answered. “I had nothing to do with you or your precious monocle.”

“Eudid!” he roared again. “Eudid!”

Zoē crouched beneath the swinging cane, then ran to a door that was in the center of the store and under a staircase. “I hear the little beast!”

“Where?” answered the old woman, turning and swinging the cane in Zoē’s direction.

“Eudid!” snarled the giant man.

“I did not you old fool!” cried the woman.

Zoē quietly opened the door, stepped down to a little landing, then noiselessly closed the door behind her.

upinVermont | March 21st 2022

Rough Drafts | Sidewalk Poems

The history behind these two poems is interesting. Middlebury, Vermont invited local poets to send in poems for a sidewalk project in which the poems would be imprinted in the sidewalk’s concrete—part of a poetry project. The poems came with strict line length and word limits. I don’t remember them now. But why not? Middlebury is one of my favorite Vermont towns and Brookway, the fictional town of my novels, is loosely based on it. I submitted the poems and—never heard anything again. Story of my literary life. Since they were written for a very particular location—a sidewalk—I was never sure what to do with them. Now I know. If they can’t be in Middlebury’s sidewalks, then they’ll be in Brookway’s sidewalks—a sidewalk of the imagination. They have a home again.

If despite your hurry
You pause just long enough
To momentarily query
The verses here and there,
You next may ask yourself
If poems aren’t everywhere?—
If maybe all along
(And even by a sidewalk)
There wasn’t always song?
And though that may be true,
It’s true because all poetry
Is truthfully in you.
You mostly needn’t guess
(Or second guess) the season,
You know it more or less:
You know it by the spider
Fattened on the addled flies.
They crowd September’s cider.
And if the weather’s terse
And fitful then it’s likely
April; yet suppose this verse
Is buried under snow?
Your guess is good as mine.
Vermont. You never know.
Every year it’s touch and go.

upinVermont | March 6th 2022

Rough Drafts | Broken

  • As I wrote before, while describing my new novel, Stopping by Autumn, the deceased mother of the main character left behind some sketchbooks and loved Emily Dickinson’s poetry—and wrote poems in Dickinson’s style. To that effect, each chapter is headed with a poem like Dickinson’s—the Ballad Meter, the off-rhymes, the flexible meter.
          Each element best mends itself
          When human beings have erred—
          Metal is with metal welded
          And clay with clay repaired

          But tell me when the last word's spoken—
          If this is how we end it—
          Tell me when the heart is broken
          What element will mend it?

upinVermont | March 5th 2022

Rough Drafts | Ariella & her Shadow

I’ve been able to keep to my schedule. I’m just shy of a quarter way through my novel, having just begun Chapter 3. Thought I’d share another passage. This comes straight from Chapter 2. Soot is a character from my first novel, Tiny House, Big Mountain, and one of my favorite characters. The second novel takes place in the same Vermont town—Brookway, which is a sort of amalgamation of all my favorite parts of Vermont.

Soot came by that evening, invited to dinner by Fiona. Her clothes were a cataclysm of color. She wore a purple, paisley scarf whose ends reached her knees and a red felt hat that reminded Zoē of a garden gnome’s, but the tip fell to the small of her back. There were colorful patches on her scarf, hat and leggings.

“Why do you dress like that?” Zoē asked, sitting opposite Soot. She had already carefully arranged her knife, fork and spoon.

“So I’m easy to find,” Soot answered.

“By who?”

“By me.”

Zoē gazed at Soot in that way she had, as if she had been told that a bird might recite the alphabet at any moment.

“Do you have any grapes?” Soot asked Fiona, but Fiona was already putting a bowl of grapes on the table. She took one and gave Zoē a confiding smile. “Have you never lost yourself?”

“No.”

“Do you know,” asked Soot, “what casts your shadow?”

“Light.”

“Is that what you think?” Soot ate another grape.

“What is it then?” Zoē straightened.

“You think you can’t see your soul, but of course you can. Your soul is what casts your shadow,” Soot leaned forward. “And your soul is easiest to see in the light. And everything has a soul, from a tree to the fencepost. If you see the fencepost’s shadow, then that’s because the fencepost and its soul are in agreement. But if the fencepost forgets to be a fencepost then it’s as though it forgets its soul; and one day its shadow will disappear.”

“Do you know anybody who’s lost their shadow?” Millie asked.

“I know a story,” said Soot.

“I wanna hear it.”

“Do you have any wine?” Soot asked Fiona, and a moment later Fiona returned with a glass. Soot liked a glass when the storytelling mood came over her and Fiona knew her Aunt well enough to know. She slipped it across the table, a glass of red wine in a bordeaux. 

“Do you remember Ariella Pease?” she asked Fiona. “No, I don’t suppose you would. Sweet as syrup when she was a little girl. Then, a little older and all that changed. There was always a streak of jealousy in Ariella. And as she grew older, her jealousy grew with her.

“She coveted trifles.

“Whenever she had the chance, she would take what wasn’t hers. Little things: a pencil became a hair clip, became a ring, became a pearl necklace. Her soul, because the soul is confused by deceit and dishonesty, forgot how to recognize her and, one day, was gone. And Ariella had no more shadow.

Soot leaned back, glancing first at Millie, then at Zoē. “What happens when your soul can’t find you? Do you know? The world turns gray. Your thoughts turn black and white. You miss the beautiful things of the world because your soul no longer whispers in your ear saying: ‘Look! There! Isn’t that beautiful?’” Soot adjusted her eye patch and sipped a little more of the wine.

“Well?” Millie knelt on her chair now, elbows on the table. “What happened?”

“That’s it,” said Soot, glass lifted beside her, one knee crossed over the other. “Her shadow was gone. Poof!”

“Is not,” said Millie.

“She didn’t notice at first. Whoever checks to make sure their shadow is with them? She went out and at first there were whispers, then pointing, then she saw what wasn’t there. She didn’t dare go out again. Some said she bartered with the devil  but in exchange for what? Wealth? Eternal youth?

“At first she was angry.

“She raged at the mailman for being late. She raged at the noisy children. Her tea was too cold, her soup too hot. She would find her shadow and stitch it to her heels. A shadow must be like a long scarf. If it’s not tied round one’s shoulders then perhaps it can blow away.

“She needed a seamstress and so she went looking. She went when others weren’t as likely to see her. She wore a shawl and skirted from house to house, but then she noticed a timid shadow following her. Ariella was on the left side of the road and the shadow was on the right. When she moved, the shadow moved. When she stood still, the shadow stood still.

“Ariella meant to catch her shadow and chased it up the porch-stairs of the nearest house. She almost cried out when she saw a strange girl swinging on a porch-bench. The girl smiled mischievously and put her finger to her lips. ‘Come closer,’ she said, whispering so that only Ariella would hear her, ‘I know why you’re here. Give me the pearl necklace and I’ll give you what you need. Ariella frowned, proud of the necklace she had stolen, but took it off and gave it to the girl.”

“Look on your stoop tomorrow morning.”

“Ariella thought she should recognize the strange girl. The next morning there appeared a short spool of white thread. Surely this wasn’t all that Ariella needed. She went back out late in the evening, hiding from the moon, the lights from the windows and the street lights. Once again she saw her shadow and chased it under a bridge and once again was startled by the strange girl in the shawl. She crouched under the bridge as if hiding there. ‘I know what you want. Give me the ring that you stole and I’ll give you what you need. Ariella frowned but gave it to her.

“Look on your stoop tomorrow morning.”

“The strange girl seemed ever more familiar to Ariella. The next morning there appeared a spool of fine red thread. Each night Ariella gave the giggling girl something she had stolen. Each night Ariella was more sure she recognized the girl. Each morning a spool of thread more valuable and beautiful than the last appeared on Ariella’s stoop. Each day Ariella felt happier and her step was lighter. 

“At last there was only the pencil.

“The next evening her shadow led her to a neighboring farmhouse where Ariella found the strange girl swinging under an apple tree. ‘Now,’ she the girl, ‘you must promise never to steal anything again. The girl jumped off the swing and gave Ariella a piece of paper. She turned around so that Ariella could sign the paper on her back. ‘This is your promise to never steal anything again,’ she said, looking over her shoulder. ‘Then give me the pencil and I will return it to who you stole it from.’

“Ariella signed and gave the girl the paper.

“As soon as the girl turned around Ariella saw who she was. It was her soul! Ariella finally recognized herself. She reached but her soul was too quick. ‘No!’ her soul smiled and wagged her finger. ‘You have been very bad.’

“‘Will you come back?’ Ariella begged.

“Look on your stoop tomorrow morning

“The next morning there was a golden needle on Ariella’s stoop and then she saw her shadow, already attached to her heel, and kneeling just like her. But Ariella knew what she needed to do. She took the golden needle and she took all the most beautiful clothes and cut them up. She made patches and sowed her clothes back together so that every time she saw them she would be reminded that the most beautiful thing she had in the world was herself.”

Soot finished her tale, finished her wine, gazed at both girls and then at Sean.

“Wait,” said Millie. “Was that story about you?”

“Millie!” said Soot. “I’m surprised at you!”

upinVermont | March 4th 2022

Rough Drafts | Horace & the Dowsing Horse

  • As part of posting I want to acknowledge the tragedy unfolding in the Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is a thug and war criminal. If he ever steps foot from Russian soil he should be arrested and tried for mass murder. I write that as an American and EU Passport holder, whose parents live in Europe and whose daughter is studying in Europe. I worry about all of them. Life goes on for those of us lucky enough to live in a Democracy, flawed though it may be, but the behavior of Russia, and China, is a reminder of what we stand to lose if we become complacent.

Short of that, the best we can do is try to bring a little more light into the world. I thought I might share a little of my novel, in its rough draft state, as I write it. The following is a little tale from my next novel—”Stopping by Autumn“. I continue to write 888 words a day and by the end of each day still feel a touch of disbelief at having done it. I’m currently midway through Chapter 2.

Convivia Peacham was the granddaughter of Goddard J. Peacham, manufacturer of ball bearings in St Johnsbury, Vermont. When Convivia Peachham’s parents died, falling through the ice of the Connecticut River, it wasn’t long afterward that Convivia Peacham inherited her grandfather’s fortune. She sold the factory and built an ample Federal just on the edge of Brookway.

She was mean. Give her milk to look at, they’d say, and she’d sour it. Praise the weather and she’d say it takes more than one Robin to make a summer. She disdained all but her horse, Delilah, a Morgan whose color was as rich as Solomon’s cedar. How she loved that horse! To this day you can still see her black touring carriage and white silk muff she wore whenever she went out riding with Delilah. She kept her hands in her muff even in the dead of summer.

Her hands were always cold.

After a few years living in Brookway she met Horace Abernathy, a man as mean as she was, and despite all, a man she fell madly in love with. Some tried to warn her but most decided it wasn’t their business. ’Let’s see how the cat jumps,’ was all they’d say. It wasn’t long before Horace and Convivia married and in less time than that Horace was frittering away Convivia’s wealth. That began the long fights that started early in the evenings and carried on well into the night. Neighbors had to close their shutters.

One night, after they had all but finished off the cellar’s wine, all the noise stopped. It seemed to the neighbors that peace had broken out. If Convivia had all but disappeared, that was no reason to look the gift horse in the mouth. She’s taken to bed, is all that Horace would say. All the while, Horace spent Convivia’s wealth until he was forced into old habits. One day he let it be known that Convivia’s belovèd Delilah possessed the miraculous ability to dowse for water. Dowsers were common as horseflies but no one had ever heard of a horse that could dowse. Horace cornered the market. He took Delilah into a field and would ask if there was water. The horse would paw twice if there was and once if there wasn’t. And Delilah was never wrong.

Soon enough, Horace began to wonder what else Delilah could find and sure enough: she found silverware, tools and even coins fallen out of pockets. Horace eagerly whipped Delilah from farmhouse to farmhouse, taking a cut of everything she found. He schemed for more and it occurred to him that if Delilah could find silver, then she could find gold. He called up the local paper and declared that his horse, Delilah, could find gold and he was so confident that he intended to demonstrate her miraculous ability before the press.

That very evening a contingent of reporters arrived, bringing notebooks, cameras and even one of the new movie cameras. Horace paraded Delilah before the reporters then announced that Delilah would guide them to all such veins of gold as lay beneath his property. Delilah led Horace and the crowding reporters to a little place between the house and barn and under the thornapple tree that Convivia had always disliked. Delilah pawed the ground twice.

“Dig here!” said Horace.

And they did. They dug for five, ten, twenty minutes with their cuffs drawn back and wiping their brows. Then they saw it, the glint of gold! It was the editor-in-chief himself, Ned Corrigan, of the Brookway Mirror, who stooped and picked up the gold. Reporters scribbled, photographers snapped their photos and the filmographer cranked the old ‘Ernemenn E’. There in Ned Corrigan’s hand was Convivia’s wedding ring, and inside it the cold white bone of her finger.

bird-block-print-desaturated

upinVermont | February 25th 2022

The allure of Freelance Editors, “Pre-Agents” & Reedsy

So these last couple of weeks have been productive.

And instructive.

I have a small list of Youtube subscriptions and one of them is Reedsy. The website is a portal/’middle man’ for writers—full stop—and writers, agents, ex-agents, professional editors and freelance editors who know a pot of gold when they see one. Reedsy is free to sign onto and offers, in exchange for your email address—Newsletters. Lots and lots of “Newsletters”.

  • Writing – Writing craft: a digest of writing advice from our blog and alerts for live writing events
  • Publishing – Understanding publishing: insights from our industry experts
  • Marketing – Book marketing: get one new marketing idea every week
  • Design – Book design: get access to our exclusive cover critiques
  • Product – Product updates: Get notified about new features on the Reedsy Marketplace.

And what is the point of these Newsletters? To connect you with writers, ex-agents, agents, professional editors, and freelance editors and publishers. VISA and MASTERCARD accepted.

Now, I do think that many, if not the vast majority of these “professionals” mean well, have useful information to share, and have undoubtedly helped to land some writers with a publishing contract. My hunch, though, is that such breakthroughs are the exception.

In my case, and as soon as I joined, I was [not too subtly] steered toward amateurs and professionals [see above] offering freelance editorial services—which Reedsy divides into Editorial Assessments, Proofreading, Copy Editing, or Developmental Editing. One writes a “Brief” (think of it as a ‘Help Wanted’ ad) that consists of blanks to be filled in by the author: Genre, Introduce yourself and your book, Book details, Target market, Main characters, and finally a 3000 word sample from your project. This “Brief” is then sent off to up to 5 freelance editors, chosen by you. It’s kind of like online dating. You will probably query the editor whose interests in theme and genre are like yours. In my case, determined to explore any and all avenues to publication, I wrote up my brief. Here’s what I wrote for Book Details:

My book is entitled “Tiny House, Big Mountain” and was completed January 1st of 2021. I sent it out to twenty agents last year and received form letter rejections. Thinking my novel might be too long and in need of an edit, I edited the entirety this past January, reducing the novel from almost 110000 words to just over a 100,000. The edit was a good exercise and needed. I may have also improved my “Queries”. The novel is—unique. When I was eleven years old I had a near death experience, saw behind the veil, and met God. You’re welcome to ask about it. I’ve been writing about that experience in one form or another ever since. Tiny House, Big Mountain tells the story of Cody, an eleven year old girl; her mother Drew; and Virginia—a woman who finds herself drawn into Cody and Drew’s lives when Cody’s father attempts to kill both Cody and her mother—murder suicide. Cody’s resultant near death experience changes her life. She foresees the arrival of Hurricane Irene, the destruction of her old home, and the start of a new life with her mother and Virginia. The women try to rebuild their lives—suddenly, if reluctantly, dependent on each other—and Cody forges new friendships. Cody and Drew are Abenaki. One of the traditions of the Abenaki was story telling in the raising of their children, and there are fables, short stories and poetry in this novel. There are also elements of “magical realism” based on my own experiences. As far as I know, there’s no other novel like it. If that’s good or bad, I don’t know.

Three of the five editors readily turned me down (time constraints). Since they all wrote exactly the same thing, they probably picked their rejection notice from a convenient drop-down list. Fair enough. One of the freelance editors wrote me back a proposal and recommended/’bumped up’ my request for an Editorial Assessment to a Developmental/Copy Edit. Allow me to translate: the proposed job went from a $1700 job to a $2700 job. The reason given stemmed from my Brief in which I commented that my MS had already been rejected by a dozen agents. Maybe the problem was more serious? I tend be hopelessly naïve in my dealings with others, always assuming the best intentions. I could assume that this particular editor genuinely thought they were doing me a favor, but it’s also not lost on me that these are tough times, the editor is freelancing, and that the offer stood to put an extra thousand dollars into their pocket. Did my manuscript (MS) really need a combination developmental and copy edit? In the case of my own MS I question whether any editor could say that after 3,000 words (out of 101,000), but why not err on the side of a thousand dollars? Including Reedsy’s cut, the total would have been $3,000. It should be self-evident as to why Reedsy is kind of, sort of, questionably pushing hopeful writers toward their stable of (albeit vetted) freelance editors. It’s a pot of gold. Let’s just say it.

I came within a mouse click of taking up their 4 figure offer, but then I went out and researched the subject. (No doubt my own post will be read by the next authorial hopeful.) What I found out was not conclusive; but it made me decide against hiring a freelance editor. When actual, practicing agents (not agents now freelancing as editors) are asked about the benefits of an edited MS, the responses are mixed. Stating that one’s MS as been professionally edited in one’s query can be a turn off at worst and irrelevant at best. Agents described the professionally edited MS as sometimes an improvement and sometimes not. The response that made the most impression was this: Many agents stated that they weren’t looking for flawless manuscripts with unimpeachable grammar and spelling, but good stories. Publishers already have their own stable of professional editors who will help the author hone their MS, but there has to be a good story worth editing.

Here’s why I came very close to hiring a freelance editor. Agents/Publishers have shown zero interest in my novel. When a professional, albeit a freelance professional, praises one’s writing, says one’s story is compelling and states that they want to collaborate to help one reach one’s goals, that feels like heady praise. What author doesn’t want to hear that? But here’s the thing: It’s kind of like buying your manuscript a night out with an escort. I’m going to assume that the vast majority of editors at Reedsy have integrity and really do enjoy their work, but I’m also somewhat troubled by the way many of them are marketing themselves—as sort of “pre-Agents”.

Here’s the thing, if agents and publishers are to be believed, they are being deluged by manuscripts. Apparently every dog and their uncle is writing a novel. There were 407,000 books published in 2007. Published. Now just imagine the number submitted to agents that weren’t published. Publishers threw up their hands. They quit accepting unsolicited manuscripts and farmed out that job to agents. Lo and behold, now agents are drowning under waves of unsolicited manuscripts. Most don’t even have time for an automated rejection letter. So what are agents and authors to do? Farm out the job to “freelance editors/pre-Agents”. Let’s create a whole new industry.

“I do not represent projects that I freelance edit but I am happy to help guide writers to representation.”

This is from a freelance editor who just appeared in this morning’s “Newsletter”. This seems harmless enough. All the freelance editors list their experience working at agencies and in publishing houses. That’s to be expected. But the quote above is grounds for worry. If Reedsy’s freelancers don’t explicitly state it (like the editor above) then it’s not lost on me that they judiciously include “pull quotes” from their clients stating that they were able to guide them to agents and/or publishing houses, in addition to editing their manuscripts. Although it’s not spelled out, here’s how I read the situation: These individuals are marketing themselves. Some quit their jobs to do it full time (I assume) while other professionals are now doing it on the side. They’d be fools not to. A few thousand dollars in this economy is a nice bump. There are a lot of bad writers out there with money. To be clear, if there are half a million novels being published every year, just imagine how many novels aren’t being published, backed by authors willing to pay for any advantage. There is a pot of gold big enough to float a yacht. And Reedsy’s freelance editors, along with others elsewhere, are competing for it. If they can offer not only editing, but also insinuate that they “know” people, what hopeful writer isn’t going to pick them?

Essentially, what’s going on is the de-facto (perhaps unwitting) creation of a whole new industry for would-be authors to navigate. Publishers are overwhelmed, so let agents screen unsolicited manuscripts. Are agents overwhelmed? Then grease the wheels with the right “editor”. Look how well it worked for [insert client’s pull quote]. This is ethically troubling. It’s a whole industry devoted to making money off hopeful writers. Want to improve your query letter? Reedsy just this morning offered me the first chapter free. Want to read the rest? VISA and MASTERCARD accepted. Want a freelance editor with, you know, “connections”? VISA and MASTERCARD accepted.

As for myself, tempting as it is to pay for an editor’s devoted and loving attention, I decided against it. It’s very alluring to think that one can buy one’s way into a book contract. Better to do it the old fashioned way—luck, timing, research and persistence. And faith in one’s own writing abilities and judgement.

I want to stress that the freelance editor with whom I spoke explicitly stated that they were only offering their editorial services. They were the real deal. Reedsy appears to be a good resource for the judicious writer, but don’t be fooled. They’re in it for the money—your money. I do not think that paying a freelance editor between $1500-$3000 is unreasonable (depending on what is being offered), but its utility and usefulness is conditional. If an author is self-publishing, and can afford a good freelance editor, then it’s probably worth it. For those seeking a traditional publisher, focus on telling a good story. If it’s compelling enough, publishers have their own stable of editors to clean up your typos, punctuation and questionable grammar.

In other news, I’ve begun my second novel and am writing 888 words a day (writing this post isn’t helping). The goal is to write the novel in 3 months. I already posted an initial poem here. And for the inspiration behind this 3 month plan, watch this.

February 19th 2022

The Wages of Art

I’ve been in a strange sort of fall and winter. I started my blog twelve years ago and have written—quite a bit. The blog continues to be well read, I can’t complain, but it’s an odd sort of success that butters no parsnips. I just received another rejection from another agent: Sorry for the form letter; but form letter; at this time; volume of submissions; “project described”; list; doesn’t fit; good luck. Meanwhile, authors are encouraged to tenderly and exquisitely tailor their queries to each individual agent—please enclose perfumed rose petals. Also, if you need help writing your queries, I notice now that agents and editors are offering courses (VISA and MASTERCARD accepted).

I also find myself in the odd position of being treated like the rich uncle. There are many writers, poets and websites who, suddenly my best friends, write me glowing comments, telling me they’ve always loved my website, only to end with a request that I review their poem/book/website. Can you spare a dime brother? This happens a lot. I remember one poet—published, successful and nicely ensconced in academia—who, after I reviewed their book, asked if there were local venues where they could read their poetry, as if I might be their pro bono outreach coördinator. Not long after that they sent me another book to review. Did they ever mention me or my poetry? Did they acknowledge my writing? That other poets and authors ask for reviews or to be mentioned on my blog is okay. That’s called self-promotion. I get it. What rubs me the wrong way is when none of these individuals offer to return the favor—and that doesn’t take much. They don’t mention my blog on their own sites and never comment on my poetry because, of course, they’ve never read it and apparently have no interest in doing so.

As far as blogging goes, I’m struggling to feel motivated. For three straight years I wrote a post a day. That’s a lot. Writing this post is maybe an effort to motivate myself.

If any of you wish that I’d discuss this or that, let me know. I haven’t been posting much if only to avoid being repetitive. Presently, I’m working on more poems and still developing ideas around my next novel. I’ve written the opening pages but am already thinking of all the many ways I can make it unsalable—including poetry, stories within stories, the blurring of genres upmarket/YA/women’s/erotic/magical realism/literary etc… It’s what I do. I write meter and rhyme when the rest of the world writes prose. I write, apparently, what (so far) nobody wants to read or publish. This may simply be a reality I need to accept.

There’s also the possibility that I’m a poor judge of my own art. History is littered with mediocre talent unable to recognize its own limitations. I don’t think that’s the case, but of course I would say that. It’s possible that my writing is universally rejected because I’m just too mediocre and daft to recognize it. I see it in other poets, writers and artists every day. There’s no reason why the same shouldn’t afflict me.

What do we do in life when nothing works out the way we expected? Don’t ask me. I’ll just write a poem or story about it. Once one has decided to paddle across the ocean, quitting mid way probably isn’t going to end well.

    mid-
        field in February's snow—the inexplicable
            crow

            February 8th 2022

Morning Glories

No luck last year interesting agents in my novel, Tiny House Big Mountain. To prove to myself, if to no one else (and with mixed results) that I’m not above accepting advice and criticism, I’ve both refused to farm out my MS to an editor but have also spent the last month gradually editing down my 110,000 words. Having a year between myself and the novel’s completion makes it easier to edit. I almost read it as written by someone else, and I’ve found lots to clean up. I’m half way through and I’ve already weeded out 5,000 words. That’s just a little here and there, page by page. I haven’t cut any passages but have removed redundancies (the same that I criticize in others); and have removed expository/narrative passages (anywhere from a couple sentences to a paragraph) that add nothing to the plot or momentum. I’ve begun to think that a reasonable goal might be to edit the novel down to that magic 100,000 words.

I’m also going to change my query letters insofar as plot description goes. I hadn’t wanted the novel to be treated as a YA novel, and so when I described the plot I put less emphasis on Cody, the 11 year old girl, than I might have. She is, though, largely the main character and the risk in not emphasizing her is to somewhat muddy the central thesis of the story. We’ll see if I’m right.

I’ve also started my next novel called Stopping by Autumn—a Romance. This time I want to more tightly integrate the poetry into the story’s narrative. The deceased mother of the main character has left behind poetry. I’m planning on twelve chapters headed by twelve poems. I asked myself what kind of poetry the deceased mother would write, and decided she had had a garden and was a fan of Emily Dickinson; and that she would write Hymn Meter in honor of her favorite poet. So, here is the first poem of the first chapter written in 8s,6s or Common Meter.

The Morning Glories may mistake
Whatever wall they try
And in their slow mistaking take
A window for the sky.

They press against the glass and reason
They touch the celestial sphere
(Above Earth’s evanescent season
Divinity is near).

How strange and unaccountable
Is heaven to these flowers—
My indoors unpronounceable
And foreign to their hours.

As if I were a deity
They watch me come and go,
Their guileless spontaneity
More God-like than they know.

These flowers searching the sidereal
For something like perfection
Might almost witness the ethereal
Yet miss their own reflection.

~ Morning Glories
   January 2022

We had a snow storm move through. By Vermont’s standards, not so much—around six or seven inches. The foxes and owls are out. They can hear the rodents tunneling in the snow; and I’ve seen the owl pluck a rodent straight from its mid-field hideaway. Unlike the arctic fox or owl, our foxes and owls still sport their summer coats.

    mid-
       winter's squall—the owl's unchanging
            gaze

    — January 19th 2022

two haiku for the end of the year


    slicing
        a lemon in half—winter nights already
            shorter

    103: December 27th

    going
        where the Milky Way goes after the road
            ends

    104: December 30th 2021 | bottlecap
  • I hope you’ve had a good Christmas and are having a happy New Year. Writing December’s haiku has been like tipping a teaspoon of milk from an empty bowl. By this point I’ve written close to 1,800. Maybe I can save myself from further repetition, if not too much already, by making these two haiku my last. I wish all the best for the coming year.