See you at the Pennwriters Conference!

May 6, 2010

***UPDATE*** 5/9:

AREA 6 PENNWRITERS: Join Lisa Kastner at Breakfast!

Lisa is our Pennwriters President and fellow Area 6 member. She coordinates the monthly Philadelphia Pennwriters critique group and supports writers throughout the region. Lisa is a great writer, a great leader, and a great person to know in Pennwriters.

Join Lisa at breakfast for a quick rally with other writers. Put faces to names, and make a new friend!

Jade Blackwater regrets to announce that after having fun day getting her hair done in Seattle to prepare for the Pennwriters Conference, she promptly came down with the flu and is unable to fly. Jade sends her deepest regrets, and encourages all writers to take full advantage of the Pennwriters Conference.

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We’re a week away from the 23rd Pennwriters Annual Writers’ Conference to be held in Lancaster, PA May 14-16 2010. This year’s conference features keynote speakers James Rollins and Elizabeth Kann, a stellar lineup of agents, editors, and authors for workshops and pitch sessions, plus designated party time at the Pennwriters ‘Heroes and Villains’ Saturday Night Masquerade Ball.

REGISTER NOW FOR THE 2010 PENNWRITERS CONFERENCE

So why should you attend? For starters, if you’re a Pennwriters member of Area 6 or another writer from the Mid-Atlantic, this is a fabulous opportunity to participate in a writers’ event right here in your region. Pennwriters offers a variety of workshops, networking, and promotional opportunities to help writers of all levels improve their work and build their business.

You don’t have to be from the East Coast to enjoy a Pennwriters event! Keynote James Rollins joins us from Northern California, and I’m flying over from Western Washington state to join the fun and support Area 6. The great thing about the Pennwriters membership is that it started with a strong community of writers from Pennsylvania, and has grown to include members from all across the US, and a few far-flung folks overseas. The annual conference is the perfect time to put a face to a name/handle/avatar/penpal/writing-buddy.

LOOK FOR LISA KASTNER JADE BLACKWATER AT BREAKFAST

AREA 6 MEMBERS (and all writers) can find me at breakfast – I’ll have something to catch the eye and make it easy to spot me – and please come introduce yourself! I want to meet members, shake hands, and introduce you to one another.

I’m on the hunt for a new volunteer for the Area 6 Representative position. All members of Pennwriters Area 6 extend a hearty thank you to Bob Michalsky for his support of Pennwriters, and wish him all the best in his endeavors! If you are ready to support writers in your area and do more with Pennwriters, then I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

GET READY TO PITCH YOUR WRITING

Over at the Pennwriters Area 6 blog, Conference Coordinator Ayleen Stellhorn stops by with tips to prepare yourself to pitch, and a detailed interview discussing more about the conference.

Pennwriters Area 6 Member Ash Krafton has also prepared a link-rich post about pitching your work, plus more about editing the muse and navigating the transition from hobby writer to career author.

Follow @Pennwriters on Twitter for even more resources including tweets about Pennwriters activities as well as news, tips, and insights from members, guests, and other writing resources. You can also Follow @JadeBlackwater on Twitter for my own #PWcon tweets plus more about writing, art, creativity, ecology, sustainability, and various miscellanea.

If you’re on Twitter, remember to use the #PWcon hashtag to tweet the conference, and use the #Pennwriters hashtag any time to chat about Pennwriters. Send @Pennwriters a @ (mention) or DM (direct message) and let them know you’re a member (tell them your name so you can be located in the roster). @Pennwriters follows Pennwriters members and guests.

If you’re on Facebook, be sure to join the Pennwriters Group and Page to keep up on news and announcements and to engage with the membership.

Contact me with any questions (or to be my last-minute volunteer angel).

See you all in Lancaster!

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Literary Journal Review: Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD) Magazine Issue 5

April 14, 2010

Greatest Uncommon Denominator (GUD) Magazine: Issue 5, Winter 2009

Editors: Kaolin Fire, Debbie Moorhouse, Julia Bernd, J. Dale Humphries, Sal Coraccio, Sue Miller, & Michael Ellsworth

The advance copy of GUD Issue 5 for today’s review was provided by the editors at GUD Magazine.

Read GUD 5 Contributor Bios here.

Follow @GUDmagazine on Twitter

Most literary journals that I enjoy possess just a few jewels which I treasure – the stories and poems that draw me back to the shelf to reread over the years. What makes GUD Magazine different is that I can’t pick “just a few” favorite jewels to share with you today – the contents are really that good.*

Whenever I pickup a lit journal, I always flip to a poem first. Usually I scan the index by title, or pick through the pages until the shape of a stanza attracts my eye. My introduction to GUD was the poem “Suggestions for Distributing Your Poems” by Tammy Ho Lai-Ming. For me, her piece sets the tone for the entire issue: playful, thoughtful, passionate… reaching. In this poem, and in all the works selected for GUD Issue 5, I find authors seeking connection and affirmation, casting their bottled messages out upon the purple sea.

Why a purple sea? Well why not? GUD Magazine offers a delicious buffet of speculative fiction, and so much more. Where else could you pick à la carte between a “Deadman on the Titanic” (Alicia Adams) or “a self-made billionaire, a man who had spent his childhood in poverty, the son of a Martian pig farmer” (Andrew N. Tisbert) served side by side with the birth of the PC and “the mother of all demos” (Paul Spinrad) ? I don’t use the metaphor of limitless preferential dining lightly – there’s something to please every reader in GUD Issue 5, and there’s nothing that doesn’t warrant a second and third read.

Ready to visit another place? Another time? Start with Nature’s Children by T. F. Davenport, Aftermath by Isabel Cooper Kunkle, or Getting Yourself On by Andrew N. Tisbert. I admire writers like these who can strike that harmonious balance between confusion and clarity – I enjoy the puzzle of trying to figure out what’s going on, but I get frustrated if I can’t get some kind of foothold so that I can follow the story. These authors make you work – but not too hard – to imagine and create along with them. They succeed by inviting you to pour your own humanity into their seemingly-alien characters, and take a look around.

Of the many surprises I found in Issue 5, Sweet Melodrama by Tristan D’Agosta was one of the finest. I don’t know how the editors secured this piece, but I just want to say thank you all around. Lovers of all things Shakespearean will swoon over this tasty dessert. And for the logophiles, “The Grammar of Desire” by Paul J. Kocak offers choice, lusty locution.

Another great feature of GUD 5 is the selection of works which remove you only a tiny step from “normal reality.” These works are a little more insidious – they’re more apt to get under your skin and haunt you for a few days. The Tiger Man by Geordie Williams Flantz is light and tender, yet biting and saucy – a perfect example of seemingly “alien” characters who are rather quite close to home. Mirror close. I also appreciate how pieces like Lost Lying on Your Back by Steven J. Dines or Birthday Licks by Kevin Brown offer a counterbalance of redemption, or at least a broken beauty, to temper the sharp brutality of their contents.

I have to point out The Pearl Diver With the Gold Chain by Paul Hogan for a couple of reasons. Maybe it’s just because I lived in Chester County, Pennsylvania for three years, or maybe it’s because I have a soft spot in my heart for the wanderers of the world (the old wheels as much as the old feet), but whatever it might be, I have this message for Mr. Hogan: Sir, it’s all I could do not to run to my jewelry box and try to tune in too. (Maybe I’m failing my inner child by not having done so already? Note to self… find a nice quiet spot… remember to relax…)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer some words for the visual pleasures in GUD 5. If you’re the type who likes to start with the pictures in a mag, then flip to page 84 and whet your appetite with a helping of Ada Lovelace: The Origin! by Sydney Padua. Two words: EVIL and EXCELLENT! So what’s the fate of Ada Lovelace, “the only legitimate child of mad, bad, and dangerous to know poet and nutcase Lord Byron”? You’ll have to get your own copy to find out.

I’m new to GUD as of Issue 5, but I find it nonetheless appropriate that their cover image should draw our thoughts toward vision and perspective, the act and emotion of searching. Everything in GUD 5 is vivid, brilliant, and inquisitive. As the reader I found myself constantly asking, “what if?” and “would it be different?” and “what would we do?” and “what have we done?” This isn’t a journal you get bored with and never finish – you’re going to want to suck the marrow out of this journal until you’re left with the satisfying skeleton.

There’s another question I asked myself while reading GUD 5 – how did the editors find so much excellent work to dish up in one place? Take a look at the About page at GUD and the answer is summarized in elegant simplicity: GUD is for the writers, the readers, the editors, the world. This isn’t lip service – the GUD business model and editorial approach are clearly succeeding as evidenced by the cornucopia of work which entertains while it provokes. In Issue 5 I don’t find myself yawning over stale academic bread, but rather devouring literary delights with gusto, and savoring the discovery of so many talented artists.

My observation is that GUD seeks work which satisfies both editors and audience, and it attracts the zine-shy writer with cold, hard compensation. Most of us write for reasons other than money, but that doesn’t mean we writers don’t like to get paid. I want to applaud GUD for building their business to both compensate artists and demand excellence. The fruits of your labors, dear editors, are sweet indeed… like a wriggling dish of gagh, very fresh.**

* See: Change in Pronunciation – Please Comply! April 1, 2010

** See: Star Trek Library – Food – gagh


Discussions on the Craft of Storytelling

February 9, 2010

During Pennwriters Presents today, Guest Speaker Jamie Ford articulated the difference between writing and storytelling.  This is a subject upon which Anita Marie Moscoso and I typically deliberate at some point during most of our chats.  (Anita is a superb storyteller.)

In addition to being a Pennwriters member, I’m also a member of Willamette Writers, and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association.  Willamette Writers Office Manager Bill Johnson is one of the names I see the most, so today I decided it was time to learn a bit more about him.  Johnson is an author, teacher, story analyst, and produced playwright from Portland, Oregon.

If you visit Johnson’s website A Story is A Promise you’ll find numerous essays and videos wherein he shares his knowledge of the storytelling process.  He especially likes to analyze the introductory pages from selected works of fiction and discuss the breakdown of what’s written and why.

I like that Johnson emphasizes the importance of invoking questions and engagement from the audience (I always feel that I’ve crafted a good story or poem when my readers ask a lot of curious questions).  Johnson’s website is one, big friendly reminder to all authors to always consider audience, intent, and the promise of each story.


Writers: Run Wild for February 2010

January 26, 2010

Running Wild Writers, LLC offers its first fiction writers’ workshop for 2010 beginning Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 7 PM. Workshops will run for ten weeks, and will be held in the heart of an artists’ community at 1241 Carpenter St. Philadelphia, PA 19147.

What You Get:
Participants will have the chance to workshop two pieces of a maximum 5,000 words each. The pieces will be given thorough written feedback by the instructor as well as feedback from fellow attendees.

Cost:
The ten week course will cost $410 for non-Pennwriters and $375 for Pennwriters members.

Interested?
Registration is available at www.runningwildwriters.org

Need More Info?
For more information, contact Lisa Diane Kastner at lisa [at] runningwildwriters [dot] org

Lisa’s Bio
A former correspondent for the Philadelphia Theatre Review and Features Editor for the Picolata Review, Lisa Kastner currently writes freelance and by invitation in literature and the arts. Her literary interviews include Charles Baxter (Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature 1997) and Lee Martin (Pulitzer Prize Nominee 2006).

She is the Founder of Running Wild Writers Community, LLC and the President of Pennwriters (www.pennwriters.com), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to assisting the novice to the award winning and multipublished writers to learn and succeed in the craft. She is the founder of the Pennwriters King of Prussia Critique Group, Philadelphia Critique Group and has led workshops on business communications. Her short stories have been published in 63 Channels Journal and The StraightJackets Magazine.

Lisa promises that her facetious redheaded tendencies will not get in the way of the workshop but instead provide a bit of flavor, like cinnamon. Learn more about Lisa at her blog The Wonderful World of a Facetious Redhead.

Running Wild Writers Community
Running Wild Writers, LLC is a not-for-profit created to assist up and coming writers to learn and excel in the craft of writing. Running Wild welcomes writers from all forms and all genres. Located at 1241 Carpenter St, Philadelphia, PA, Running Wild Writers is in the heart of an artists’ community.

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Friday Inspiration from Author Gerri George

January 15, 2010

Start your weekend with a little inspiration from author and fellow Pennwriters member Gerri George.  George’s short fiction piece “Henry Moore and the Bookstore Clerk” appears in the current issue of Wild River Review.

What I like most about this piece, beyond George’s talent for textural, present prose, are her reflections on art and its place in life.  I’m positively smitten by the main character, and I love George’s careful treatment of all people as observers, listeners, and participants in the greater conversation of art.  Take a few minutes to read, and listen.

Enjoy!


New Year, New Short Fiction Writing Contest at The Clarity of Night

January 5, 2010

Happy 2010!  I’m pleased to announce that poet, photographer, and friend-of-writers-everywhere Jason Evans is launching us all into the 2010 with the “Silhouette” Short Fiction Contest, his 12th short fiction contest hosted at The Clarity of Night blog.

Why should you participate?  Today is the fifth day of 2010, so I’ll give you…

Five Great Reasons to Participate in the “Silhouette” Short Fiction Contest:

1) Fun – Writers are supposed to have fun with their writing, and for those of us still in holiday mode, here’s a great excuse to play!  What’s more fun than a creative prompt and a time limit?

2) Community – Writers from all across the blogosphere are drawn to Evans’ contests.  This is a great opportunity to add a new writer to your professional network.

3) Challenge – Writers can’t improve unless they challenge themselves!  It’s much harder than you might think to create something amazing in under 250 words.

4) Prizes – Writers aren’t the wealthiest bunch, and there are plenty of places trying to get something for nothing from writers.  Jason Evans honors us all by rewarding the winners with cash prizes.

5) Audience – Writers might often work independently, but their work can only do so much from the file cabinet.  Here is a chance to share your work and receive realtime feedback from hundreds of writers.

The “Silhouette” Short Fiction Contest is open to everyone.  The contest opens tomorrow, Wednesday, January 6, 2010.  The deadline for submissions is 11:00 PM EST on Wednesday, January 13th.  Any genre or form is welcome provided it is inspired by the “Silhouette” photo and demonstrates a narrative movement.  Complete rules are available at The Clarity of Night blog.

Read you there!


Sleight of Hand: Tricks for Success in the Writing-Life Balancing Act

November 10, 2009

This article first appeared in the September-October 2009 issue of The Penn Writer, a bi-monthly newsletter published by Pennwriters, Inc.

Observe, the writer’s magic wand: with one wave, you will be bestowed with days upon days of perfect, uninterrupted writing time.  All your other responsibilities will float away like mist from a lake, leaving you with clarity, vision, and creative depths.

Sound too good to be true?  That’s because it is: for writers, freelancers, artists, and other independent business people, there is no magic wand with which to clear the path of life and add hours to the clock.  Unless you write purely for pleasure on passing whims, you must face the challenge of balancing writing endeavors and the rest of life in order to succeed with your craft.

For some of us, “the rest of life” might include jobs, partners, families, and commitments to community, friends, or personal health.  Some writers experience a natural ebb and flow of creative inspiration.  Other writers might operate at 100% capacity most days, but are no less susceptible than the rest of us to the arrival of a big, heavy-duty monkey wrench thrown keenly into the center of our creative works.

If the challenge is a constant writing-life balancing act, then how do we tip the scales?  In lieu of a magic wand, would you accept a little prestidigitation?  As creative professionals, we have a unique opportunity to leverage our struggle for time and energy into strong, successful writing.

First, let’s consider ourselves (also known as a self-evaluation):

To start with, grab a journal (or a whiteboard, a new word processing document, or a big slice of butcher paper).  Take your time and carefully list what’s important in your life.  Be as specific as you want – the point is to get your brain thinking actively about your priorities, motivations, and goals.  Revisit this process whenever you’re feeling stuck or powerless.

Review your self-evaluation, and consider where the specifics you’ve listed fall into broad categories.  You’re likely to find a handful of items which are all equally mission-critical, while others are less essential.  Some things may seem less important (like the daily dishwashing duty), but unless you’re already independently wealthy and pay someone else to do your dirty dishes, that’s going to be a daily priority.

Now that you’ve considered the layout of your world, it’s time to get crafty.  Remember, you are a creative professional so you don’t need a magic wand for this part – just a little ingenuity, and a willingness to suspend your disbelief long enough to change your reality.

Our solution is neither a matter of exorcizing the unattainable, nor of sacrificing the precious.  Rather, the deceptively simple acts of compromise, integration, and acceptance are going to be the secret ingredients behind our writing-life formula for balance and growth:

balance_growth

At the August 2009 Pennwriters Presents, Guest Speaker Janice Gable Bashman was asked for a few words of wisdom culled during her author interviews.  Her reply includes the following as quoted from an interview in Wild River Review with author/journalist Bill Kent:

“[…] don’t see your writing as a special thing that you can do only when you’ve put the rest of your life on hold; see it as a thing you do regularly, with as little fanfare or expectations as possible.”

Kent goes on to explain that the integration of writing and life results in benefits to both.  Sure, that sentiment looks great in print, but how do we make it work in our lives?  If we strive for balance in order to grow as writers, we must regularly consider our priorities, our motivations, and our goals.  Kent’s methodology suggests that we embrace both life and art as one.

Just as in medicine, not all solutions are right for all people.  Some of us like schedules, some of us prefer to go with the flow.  Some of us live with families or friends, some of us live alone.  Listed below are five tipping points which can be used to adjust the balance of life and writing.  These are not mantras, incantations, or affirmations  (but if you like those, grab hold of Eric Maisel’s Affirmations for Artists, or just keep repeating: “I will make time for life.  I will make time to write.”)  These are simple, common sense methods for transforming dreams into realities.

Honoring Commitments: Communicate Your Needs

In her article “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear” published this summer in The New York Times, writer Laura A. Munson discusses the challenges of love and partnership.  When her partner drops the bomb “I’m moving out,” Munson gets calm and creative.  Her response: “What can we do to give you the distance you need, without hurting the family?”

Whether it’s your partner, your colleagues, or your congregation, it’s up to you to communicate your needs so that the people in your life can help you.  To skip this step might result in tearing apart some of the relationships which keep you healthy, happy, and sane enough to be a good writer.

Hand-in-hand with this step is its corollary: “Here is where I will uphold my commitments to you [family, partner, team, etc.]”  Be prepared to offer as much as you ask: if you expect understanding from your friends and family, you must return this gift by setting aside some of your writing aspirations in order to support the people around you.

Working From Home: Close the Door

In his book On Writing, Stephen King tells us that we have to be prepared to close the door and write.  Unless you live alone, there’s more to this than just slamming the door shut.  If you still want a friendly face in your home, you need to communicate with your fellow residents so they understand why the door is closed – and when it’s scheduled to reopen.

This practice isn’t about shutting yourself off from the world, alone in your writer’s paradise.  It’s about creating a space – physical and mental – in which to create.  When you’re a home-based professional, it’s important to establish a known workspace wherein you can practice productive habits, and get the actual writing work done.

Getting Serious: Discipline Yourself

“Someday, when you’re older, you’ll think back and remember ‘gosh, now I know why Mr. Sage kept talking about self-discipline!’ ”

I heard those words regularly in my elementary school years when Mr. Sage, provoked by the careless or lazy efforts of his students, would descend into lengthy lectures on the virtues of self-discipline.  I couldn’t tell you everything he said, only that my memory involves the clock face, the image of Mr. Sage astride his stool, and the echoing phrases above.

As it turns out, Mr. Sage was right.  In my youth, I thought he was pedantic, condescending, and probably wrong.  In my adulthood, I can see how easy it is to skip this step, and how instrumental self-discipline can be in achieving my goals.  Take my friend and Co-Chair of the Pacific Northwest Pennwriters Chapter Anita Marie Moscoso as an example:

Moscoso works multiple jobs and supports kids, household, pups, and partner.  She’s politically active.  She’s always ready to lend a word of advice and insight to her fellow writers.  Moscoso also sets aside 4-5 hours every night to write.  The result: she churns out stories and is making significant progress on her first novel-length manuscript.  In short, she gets it done.

Getting Real: Accept Change

Go back to that list you created with all that’s important in your life.  Now take a look and consider: what’s not critical?  When you decide that you’re serious about writing, some things are going to be sacrificed for the greater good (good writing, that is).

Accept that some things in your life aren’t going to get done, or aren’t going to be completed at the time or to the degree of perfection you might have planned.  Accept that the ideal, uninterrupted writer’s paradise about which so many of us dream is an illusion.

The more you review and rewrite your master list, the more likely it is that you will discover some priorities that are not as important as you once thought.  Be prepared to adjust to the inevitable upheavals in your life.  Dr. Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? provides a clear, easy-to-read discussion on anticipating (and embracing) the one constant common to all of us: change.

Finding Peace of Mind: Embrace Your Experiences

In the autumn of 2008 I was invited for a short radio interview with Robert Krulwich of NPR to discuss Dr. Nalini Nadkarni’s newest book Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees, which I helped to produce.  At the time, I had just moved from Philadelphia to Seattle, only to find myself on the way to southern California to help care for a family member.  It seemed like my life had become the perfect storm in which all my writing goals would be funneled up from the earth and then dropped splat-flat.

While traveling through the gorgeous California redwoods via Carmel en route to Santa Barbara, I spoke with Krulwich by phone to make arrangements.  I had searched frantically online using Wi-Fi access to find a recording studio along the way where I could complete the interview.  Krulwich solved my problem with a simple statement: “You’re traveling through the redwoods, and Carmel is beautiful!  You should enjoy all that, and I’ll find us a studio in Santa Barbara.  We’ll talk when you arrive.”

It makes perfect sense: we can’t rush past the pleasures of life, nor can we skip the rough roads.  As Bill Kent reminds us, putting life on hold in exchange for writing is a non-option.  It is our experience which provides the personal resources we need in order to create.  In Ann Charters’ The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction, we are told that Stephen Crane “believe[d] – as did Ernest Hemingway after him – that ‘the nearer a writer gets to life, the greater he becomes as an artist.’ ”  Every task, event, chore, and chance meeting can be a resource for your writing.  Don’t waste a single experience.

These are just a few ideas for learning to accept, integrate, and compromise in order to achieve the writing-life balance.  When considered in the context of our secret formula (priorities, motivations, and goals), we create opportunities for growth as writers and people.

I cannot guarantee that these methods will solve all your problems, but I believe that attempting them might lead you to the solution that is right for you.  At the very least, these tricks may distract you for a while, and sometimes that’s all we need – a distraction to take our eye off the pea so that the shell game of life can reformulate into new possibilities.