POEM: Elegy for the Circus

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“ELEGY FOR THE CIRCUS”

 

No more clowns, corpse-white skin,

blackened eyes, and red leaking lips,

to frighten infants with ludicrous stunts

and thickly painted cracked faces

 

No more weeping elephants, tears cutting lines in rough skin

No more grey-skinned babes separated from mourning mothers

 

No more tigers pacing cages too small for predators meant to run,

to race, to track down prey, to rip flesh between their teeth

 

No more lions teased with the heads of their masters

thrust into hungry mouths, teased with the illusion

of freedom and a hot meal with a beating heart

 

No more X-square feet per animal, less than zoo standards,

less than any wild beast was meant to live in, to pace in, to die in,

 

No more creatures forced to perform

before children dripping ice cream and disinterest

 

 

 

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For those of you fortunate enough to live in Northeast Ohio, there are two writing events tomorrow (October 13th) in the Cleveland area.

Literary Cleveland’s October Poetry workshop takes place from 10:30-12:30 at the Cleveland Main Library, led by poet Kisha Nicole Foster.

Indie Author Conference and Showcase takes place from 10am- 4pm at the Cuyahoga County Library’s Parma-Snow branch.

Both events are free, which is INCREDIBLE. I’ve attended both events at different times in the past and readily vouch for how inspiring and helpful both are. Unfortunately, they overlap, so you will need to choose which event you want to attend this year.

If you can take advantage of these events, please do so. They are well worth the drive!

 

*It should come as no surprise that I’m not a fan of circuses, and so this prompt from last year’s National Poetry Writing Month really inspired me.

**image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net via Creative Commons License

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CURRENT EVENTS: NE Ohio Writing Events and Groups

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Since I am lucky enough to live in the literary-friendly state of Ohio, I have access to an abundance of writing groups, open mic events, workshops, and free writing cons. For those of you who may be in the area, I’ve compiled a short list of things you may be interested in. Unless otherwise indicated, all of them are free. You’re welcome.

Saturday, June 9th is Literary Cleveland’s poetry workshop from 1030am-1230pm at the Cleveland Main Library. This event takes place the second Saturday of each month. Bring 10-15 copies of your work to share if you would like feedback (if you only have one copy, the library will print copies for you). You are also welcome to just observe. I always learn something when I attend, though unfortunately this month I won’t make it to Cleveland.

Wednesday, June 20th is Latitudes Open Mic (poetry) from 7pm-9pm at Compass Coffee in Akron. Latitudes meets once a month. Organized by Stephen and Theresa Brightman, the featured reading will be by Greg Milo, author of Rebooting Social Studies, followed by an open mic.

Thursday, June 21st is Ekphrastic Poetry from 5pm-8pm at Bluff Blue Door Gallery in Akron. I’m not sure what this event will be exactly, but the featured poet is Stephen Brightman. I recently attended an Ekphrastic poetry event featuring his poems as reactions to the Jun Kaneko exhibit at the Akron Art Museum; it was amazing. So I’m sure this event will be fantastic as well!

Thursday, June 28th is when The Write Stuff meets from 6pm-8pm at the North Canton Public Library. This writing group meets on the fourth Thursday of every month. Their expressed purpose is helping local writers grow in the craft by offering feedback on shared work as well as sharing experiences with each other. They frequently hang out at T.D. Tailgate Grill afterwards for general chitchat and snacking.

Friday, June 29th is Poetry Night from 6pm-9pm at the Akron Nervous Dog. This event takes place on the last Friday of each month. The poets are scheduled ahead of time; it’s not open mic, but it’s always a lot of fun. Plus they make great (vegan version) London Fogs.

In August

Saturday, August 4th is the free INKubator Con from Lit Cleveland from 830am-5pm at the Cleveland Main Library. They usually have an open mic event either during lunch or after the con. You should register for the con ahead of time by going to the website for Lit Cle and clicking on the event.

Also for most of June and July I’ll be at the Ohio Shakespeare Festival on Friday nights. Volunteering to help with something you love is always rewarding, even if you are just handing out flyers or ushering people to their seats, but as an extra added bonus you can stay after for the show! Ohio Shakespeare Festival performs at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens during the Summer and at Greystone Hall during the other parts of the year. They are an amazing local professional group of actors, and you should definitely go see them!

I also suggest you visit the page for the Writing Knights writing group and press. They have multiple events every month, so it always pays to check them out!

I will continue my weekly post for a couple more weeks, as I do penance for my abysmally late post about the Western Reserve Writers’ Con last month. What can I say? My transgression has brought out the lapsed Catholic in me. Until next Friday, have a lovely week!

 

ON WRITING: The 35th Annual Western Reserve Writers’ Conference

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Last month, I was lucky enough to attend yet another free writers’ con in the literary-friendly state of Ohio! The South-Euclid Lynhurst branch of Cuyahoga library hosted the event, organized by the talented and lovely author Deanna Adams. Although free, registration was required, and as part of that registration participants were entered into a drawing for a free critique. There were several winners…myself included! But I will get more into that later.

As someone who takes advantage of the literary bounty that is Ohio, I try to volunteer to help out when I can. So on Saturday, April 28th I showed up early to help set up. There really wasn’t much for me to do, as most of the preparation was done ahead of time. So I handed out pamphlets, along with a fellow volunteer, and directed participants to the free pencils, name tags, and complimentary breakfast goodies. One of the nice things about volunteering to help out with something you love, besides the joy of feeling like you are giving back, is that you get to hang out with other people who are passionate about the same things you are. So I was thrilled to discover several writers that I admired had decided to attend after all. It just made me happy.

Once people had settled into the big meeting room, there was a Welcome to the Conference overview, followed by the keynote speech given by literary agent Elizabeth Kaplan. Soon after, everyone went to different rooms depending on which sessions they were interested in. I stayed in the “big room” for The Seven Universal Plots talk by Claire McMillan. I had heard of similar theories about storytelling before, but I wasn’t familiar with the details. It was really interesting.

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Then it was time to go to my personal editing session! The only problem was that this year I had a poetry collection, not a prose manuscript. So a few weeks earlier, instead of submitting x-amount of pages from a current manuscript, I asked for help with my organization of the collection. The lovely Laura Walter agreed, and I must say her input was fantastic. I am a firm believer in the value of feedback and good beta readers. However, writers groups are good for general feedback, and beta readers are usually reserved for when a work is finished or mostly finished. I think the more feedback you get, the better, and while family and friends may want to help, you can’t always trust them to be honest since they may try to spare your feelings. A professional look at your work is invaluable.

Next I attended the presentation by Jacqueline Marino: Writing the Personal Essay. She gave a talk on how to use pictures and photographs to create something personal with tension. Photos of people in motion, doing something, were encouraged. Then we completed a short writing assignment, which some people chose to share. I was inspired by how so many created moving first drafts in such a short amount of time.

After lunch, which I brought from home and during which I met some interesting people, there was a first page critique in the main meeting room. Three panelists–literary agent Elizabeth Kaplan, author Claire McMillan, and Rene’e Rosen– listened as the first pages of various manuscripts were read. They would raise a hand to indicate where they would stop reading and then give feedback about why, what worked for them, and what didn’t.

After a short break, I attended the last breakout session. The last presentation I attended was 15 Tips for Writing a Play by Kelly Boyer Sagert. It was interesting, though not what I expected. I thought it would be about the technical aspects of writing a script, but it was more about ideas and examples of how the presenter came to create and sell her work.

Other than the actual presentations, the best part of the con was being around other writers. Not only did I reconnect with old friends, but I met new ones that I hope to see for years to come. Also, there’s so much inspiration simply from being with creative people, I can’t help but soak up all that energy and creativity. It’s invigorating!

While there were many more workshops and classes available than I could attend in the time allowed, I hope this short summary of events helps you and hopefully encourages you to attend the next conference.  Who knows? Maybe I’ll see you there!

*My sincere apologies for the lateness of this post. Life intervened–along with technical difficulties, but I will endeavour to create additional content in the next few weeks to make up for my tardiness. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Current Events: New Year’s Resolutions for 2018!

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I know you must be weary of reading other people’s resolutions for the new year. They are inherently selfish posts aimed not at you–the reader, but rather written for the benefit of the author: a public affirmation of their intentions for the new year. There’s something special that happens in a person’s brain when they write their goals down. The act of writing makes the idea concrete and mandatory. Combine that with the possibility of public accountability, and you have a recipe for (at least some measure of) success.

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So, in the tradition of utterly selfish writing, I am announcing my goals for the coming year. In the spirit of honesty and accountability, I did not accomplish all my goals this past year–mainly getting a literary agent. I did accomplish others though–such as reading more non fiction and poetry. I had a table and read at a local author convention, and by preparing and printing my own materials to sell I discovered I loved publishing my own work. It was empowering. Can you guess what my New Year’s Resolutions are for this coming year?

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1. Publish a book.
I want to publish my work. Although I have blogged and written for the past ten years, I have yet to publish a complete book. I still have my unpublished science-fiction manuscript, which I honestly love and think is pretty damn good. However, I am more heavily into poetry at the moment, and I still write quite a bit of flash fiction. I have a backlog of stories and poems, so I’m not sure if I want my first published book to be the novel or a collection of my shorter works. I may do both.

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I’ve considered ordering a small amount of print books (to sell in person), as well as making the work available by POD or as an ebook. My local library also has options to publish for free (Self-e), although I doubt that would give me print options. I’m also still open to the traditional publishing route, but, in the meantime, I am working toward self-publishing. Either way, I’m getting at least one book out this year.

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2. Market my book.
I’ve already worked on my “brand” this past year by setting up a more professional author site, as well as matching social media accounts and even business cards. I generally try to attend as many writing conferences and workshops as possible, although this year I was sadly unable to make some of them due to a family emergency. My writing blog is informal, but my author site functions as a resume with sample writing for prospective publishers.

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So when I say “Market my work” I’m talking about marketing the book I plan to publish this year–which will involve public appearances. I’m extremely nervous when speaking in public, so this is something I’ve been working to overcome for awhile. Hopefully, I will improve with practice.

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3. Learn to make one origami form with a dollar bill.
I know this one has nothing to do with writing, but I’m terrible at origami. It’s something I’ve wanted to learn for awhile. I don’t need to learn a bunch of complicated forms, just a simple one that I can do well. I want to do it with dollar bills because I can use it for a craftivism project involving play money. Also, if I leave a tip with paper money, it might be cute.

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I’d love to hear what your resolutions are, if any, for the year 2018! If you’d like to share, please let me know in the comments below. And Happy New Year!
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**due to the holidays, my posts will be scheduled slightly off from the normal two weeks. My apologies. Happy holidays!

 

National Novel Writing Month: Prep is KEY (unless you don’t have time)

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Each November begins the literary mayhem known internationally as National Novel Writing Month–affectionately referred to as NaNoWriMo. Aspiring novelists throughout the world take the challenge to write a 50,000 word rough draft novel. The rules are simple: you can’t start the actual prose before midnight on the first of the month; you must finish by midnight on the thirtieth; and the plot should have a beginning, middle, and end.  Of course, you could always participate as a NaNoWriMo Rebel, which lots of people do, in order to ride the creative energy of all the writers working through November.

All you need to do is sign up to be a participant at the NaNoWriMo site and enter your wordcount each day. In return, you get access to chatrooms, fun writing tools to keep track of your word count and how close you are to your goal, and (if you “win”) some prizes donated by site sponsors! One of the prizes this year is three months of free Evernote!

So, you could be a plotter (someone who likes to plan out their novel) or a pantser (someone who writes without an outline–seat of the pants) or someone firmly in the middle. I tend to like a loose outline so I don’t lose track of where I’m going, but there’s no firm rule. Just do whatever works for you.

And remember, the goal is to write a ROUGH DRAFT NOVEL. So the main goal is QUANTITY over QUALITY. After all, the idea is to stop procrastinating whatever story you want to write and just get it down, because you can’t edit a blank page. Editing is for AFTER November. So give yourself permission to write badly, let loose those creative spider monkeys, and see what they turn up!

Every year I have participated, I have completed my goal, so I thought I would share my strategy. It might work for you. If it doesn’t, feel free to do your own thing!

  1. Plan out your daily wordcount goal.  There are thirty days in November, but I know that it’s much harder for me to write on weekends than weekdays, so I plan to write only on weekdays. This translates to writing 2,300 words each weekday (instead of 1,667 every single day). This way, if I get sick or fall behind, I have a nice buffer; plus anything I write on weekends is a bonus! I plan to write every day, but it’s nice to have a break when/if I need one.
  2. Back up your writing OFTEN, at least once a day. You can do this by copying and pasting into emails or saving on two different online places; I use Evernote and GDocs. Some people even write their novels out by hand or print each night. Whatever works best for you is the right thing.
  3. Have an outline. I’m not talking about a huge deal, just maybe a sentence for each chapter you plan to write. I usually plan one thing for each day I’m writing. This year, there are twenty-two weekdays so I am creating a loose outline with twenty-two bullet points. I have a beginning, put something in the middle, and the end, and then I fill in the points between.
  4. Don’t be married to the outline. Be prepared to shift your goal as your characters and plot do things you didn’t expect. You can always tweak the outline and make small notes so you don’t forget important plot points, but really–just have fun with it. Being surprised by what your brain puts on the page is half the fun!
  5. Learn to be okay with writing badly. Hemingway said that the first draft of anything is shit. That said, this is only a first draft. If you love it, you can edit it AFTER November. If you don’t, maybe you can salvage something from it for other stories. No matter what happens, you’ve stirred up your creative juices, and that’s a GOOD thing!

Have fun this month, and happy noveling! If you want to follow my progress and be writing buddies on the NaNoWriMo site, my alias is ganymeder. Good luck!

 

Current Events: Writers’ Con Season is Upon Us!

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2016 view of Eastman Reading Garden at the Main Branch of Cleveland Public Library

Literary Cleveland’s INKubator conference takes place tomorrow, Saturday the 29th, from 8:30 am – 5 pm, at the Main Branch of the Cleveland Public Library. If you are interested in going to this completely free writers’ conference, there’s still time to register for craft talks and workshops. Instruction is given by experienced writers in different genres, in everything ranging from poetry and comics to researching nonfiction books. Since this is an all day conference, you may want to pack a lunch to eat in the library’s lovely Eastman Reading Garden. Between events you may also want to stop at the library’s Superman exhibit, basically the closest thing there is to a Superman museum, since Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman while living in this great city.

There’s always plenty of smaller writing events taking place in Northeast Ohio as well, such as the bi-monthly Poetry Workshop, another free event at the Cleveland Main Library. The next meeting will be on Saturday, August 12th, from 10:30 am to 12:30pm. If you’d like to get the most out of the experience, be sure to bring about a dozen copies of a poem you would like to get feedback on–although if you’d like to just sit in, that’s perfectly welcome as well. Either way, you’ll be sure to learn more about the craft!

And it’s still early, so you have plenty of time to get ready for the annual Western Reserve Writers’ Conference on Saturday, September the 23rd. It’s another completely free writers’ conference, this time hosted by the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch of Cuyahoga Library!

Also, I’d like to leave you with a friendly reminder to check your local libraries as well as the Literary Cleveland website for more free (and sometimes not) writing events in the Northeast Ohio area. Even if you are not blessed to live near two of the top ten library systems in the entire country, chances are your local library will do everything they can to support their writers–so take advantage of every opportunity.

 

On Writing: Habitica–Gamify your Life!

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Who knew that creating a productivity tool that is essentially a video game would be so effective? Habitica (formerly HabitRPG) helps you establish good habits and eradicate bad ones by giving you in-game rewards for completing real life tasks.

My first experience with a game-based productivity tool was Life RPG, suggested by my teenage son since he’s really into video games. I tried it, and initially found it somewhat helpful–although I was frustrated by the lack of customer support. When I had issues, I tried contacting the developers through the app store and twitter to no avail. Their twitter account hasn’t been updated since 2014, and while their reviews in the Android app store were overwhelmingly favorable, I could never get them to respond when I had a question.  Customer service and response times are important to me, since I am not tech savvy.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have only used Habitica during the current week. However, in that time I’ve already had more positive feedback and interaction through the site than I ever did using Life RPG. I think part of the reason is Habitica’s strong open-source community. There is a Tavern that can be visited via the app or site, where Habiticians can hang out casually or ask general questions. People who use Habitica are encouraged to be helpful to others, positivity is promoted, and everyone (as far as I have seen) is incredibly polite and considerate.

Habitica has a webpage online that you can log into each day to check off or add tasks, as well as an app for your cell phone or tablet device. I mainly use the app, but I try to check into the website at least once a day since I find typing on the laptop easier.

The first thing you do as a new user is create an avatar, with certain free options such as hair color or body type. As you complete your tasks, you gain health, experience, gold, and other rewards that let you buy things for your avatar. As you progress in the game, you gain levels and start to acquire pets that may become mounts in the proper circumstances, as well as other things–such as food for your stable animals, potions to regain health, armor, etc. There are also Guilds and Challenges for social opportunities as well as chances to gain extra rewards such as gems.

After you create your avatar you set up your real world tasks: Habits, Dailies, and To-Dos.  Habits should be things you would like to do every day (or every week, month, etc). Dailies are things that you should do every day (month, etc), and To-Dos are things that may (or may not) have a set-time limit. You gain rewards for everything you accomplish, but you lose points only if you miss your Dailies. In addition to the virtual game rewards offered, you may also assign yourself real life rewards, such as “Watching a movie” or “Eating a cookie” that may cost x-amount of gold. There are also other features that allow you to join parties and partner with other people, but you share the rewards or punishments when you do so.

An example of a Habit would be Stretching. I don’t remember to do my stretches every day, so this gives me extra points when I remember. A Daily would be Eat Lunch, since I often forget to eat, even after preparing lunch for my son. A To-Do would be Fix the Banister; I used the option to set a due time (end of this month) since I’ve put off this simple chore for several months. I have also set myself additional real life rewards, such as watching a movie for 25 gold coins.

The Guilds offer users a way to interact with other Habiticians that share similar interests. Guilds often offer Challenges to members, which promote Guild interests. For example, there are multiple writing Guilds that offer Challenges with set editing and publishing goals.

While it may not seem to tie-in to writing as a craft, using a productivity tool like Habitica can obviously help you establish a writing routine that increases your output. My life has become progressively more hectic over the past several weeks, but in the past week I’ve accomplished more of my writing goals than I have all month. I’ve reestablished a more productive daily routine, and I actually look forward to greater rewards for tasks I would otherwise put off.

If you tend to procrastinate or get overwhelmed with daily tasks, try Habitica. Signing up costs nothing but a little of your time, and the investment more than pays for itself.