The Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference is three days of craft talks, panels, workshops and presentations at Arizona State University. With more than 50 sessions from over 25 faculty members in multiple genres and fields, the goal is to provide writers with opportunities to make personal and professional connections, advance their craft, and deepen their engagement with the literary field. View the full conference schedule here.
About the conference from the host, The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing:
“We are committed to creating an accessible and inclusive space for writers of all backgrounds, genres, and skill levels. Conference faculty and programming encompass many genres which can often go under served in the literary field, including Young Adult, Science-Fiction/Fantasy, Crime Fiction, Translation, Graphic Novels, Hybrid, and more.
Special topics like climate change, social justice, and other contemporary issues also feature prominently.
Publishing, editing, agents, and other aspects of the business of publishing are included as well.
Beyond sessions, attendees can also participate in receptions, discussion groups, after-hour socials, and other opportunities to connect with fellow conference-goers, develop relationships, and build community.”
The 2018 Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference will take place from Thursday, February 22 through Saturday, February 24. Writers of all backgrounds and experience levels are encouraged to attend. Register here.
The submission process must be the most impersonal part of a writer’s career. The author has just spent days, weeks, or even years writing, editing, and workshopping the best piece of fiction they can muster. But without an audience, it’s just a piece of journal writing. Professors and other writing professionals will encourage the author to “get your work out there” and “you need a few rejection letters under the belt.” So this piece of written human soul gets crammed into an email and whisked away to a faceless submission editor.
Finding places to submit work to is the first part of this impersonal interaction. The best way to find a literary journal that will like your work is to read journals that have similar work to yours. The problem is, that the pieces that they are publishing may either A. be much stronger and more practiced or B. not anything like what you write, in terms of style. SmokeLong Quarterly is my favorite online journal, but my written work has not measured up to their level so far. I find this uneven balance when I am submitting work where I’ve either spent a lot of time reading a journal and realized that there’s no way my work stacks up. Or I’ve never heard of the journal, and think they must just be publishing anyone, why would I bother. Scanning through lists and call for submissions can feel like job hunting with incredibly vague parameters.
However, the worst part of this process is the rejection email. There’s never a right time or place to receive the email and it’s never quite worded the right way. A rejection email that sticks out in my mind said, “while we loved the absurdist normalcy of the piece, we regret to inform you…” I appreciated the time it took for them to write something personal about my work, but it left me questioning what that meant. I spent the next few days workshopping the email, trying to get a positive deconstruction of the narrative and what the character was trying to say to me. Needless to say, I didn’t get anywhere.
Being on the other side of this as a submission editor had a similar disconnect. We had almost three hundred fiction submissions. Three hundred is a relatively low number for some journals, but it set a record for Superstition Review. I found myself stuck looking at a neverending list of titles from strangers. They show up like an excel database, or some customer list. It’s very different than sitting across from someone in a workshop.
Writing the rejection email I ran into a similar conflict. Based on the rejections I’ve gotten the email should do the following; thank the writer for submitting, tell them no, and ask them to read the journal anyway. Which always feels inauthentic when on the receiving end.
The value in submitting can’t come from personal connection. Instead, it has to come from a place of personal growth. Only by submitting (and being on the other end) can an author learn to make mistakes and to take risks. Keeping a piece of writing private keeps it safe and for some people that’s enough. Exposing a piece of writing forces the author to grow their craft and skill by releasing that inhibition. Social media has exposed the extremes of our society. Most often, we only see something that is of extreme success or extreme failure. Small failures have to happen for any professional to grow. For writers that comes in the form of rejection letters. These are only small failures, and they must be overcome in order to grow. I hope that Superstition Review gets six hundred fiction submissions next semester and that many more small failures get to occur.
Inspired by the literary and philosophical salons of 17th century France, Four Chambers presents Get Lit: Rupi Kaur, Instagram Poets, and the Politics of Craft. Every month, Four Chambers hosts a night of conversation, community, and drinking with Phoenix Poet Laureate and ASU Lecturer of English Rosemarie Dombrowski, PhD.
This month’s event will take place Thursday, November 2nd, from 7pm to 8pm. It will be held in the Reading Room inside the Rose Room at Valley Bar (Basement, 130 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85004). Valley Bar is located on Monroe St down the alley between Central and 1st Ave. Space is limited, so arrive early to make sure you can get a seat!
This month’s discussion topic is “Rupi Kaur, Instagram Poets, and the Politics of Craft.” Kat Hofland, rinky dink editor and poet, will be the guest host for the discussion. About the topic, Four Chambers writes,
What do we mean when we say someone is or isn’t a ‘real’ poet? Is ‘poetry’ an elitist and exlcusionary institution? What are the politics of consuming art within a larger cultural marketplace? Is Kaur’s poetry actually good? Who gets to define ‘good’? Who gets to define poetry? Is saying something is ‘good’ just another way of saying we like something or can it actually be good? Should we even be talking about this? Are we just adding to the hype? Does this have to be a good or a bad thing for poetry? What *is* poetry? What does Rupi Kaur’s success mean?
For more information about the event and to RSVP, head over to the Facebook page. You can also click here to find out more about Four Chambers Press.
Today we are pleased to feature author Emily Townsend as our Authors Talk series contributor. Emily speaks about finding her place in creative nonfiction, her “arbitrary” research process, and her complicated relationship with honeybees.
Emily captures the beauty of nonfiction writing concisely by noting its unique ability to allow writers to “untangling facts that [are] often left undiscovered.” Her podcast ranges from eloquent tidbits to candidly pointing out personal weaknesses in a way that makes the recording just as engaging and thought-provoking as her essay.
Today we are pleased to feature poet Maureen Seaton as our Authors Talk series contributor. Maureen speaks about the way that her poems began and her love of poetic form.
Maureen describes her poems as “fraternal twins” that were born from a state of shock after her first bout with breast cancer. She notes her future’s ambiguity asking “I wonder what I would be today if….” That ambiguity is reflected in the poems’ simultaneous “straightforwardness” and complexity, their connection and their difference. The surface differences are in full view in the poems’ forms, which Maureen discusses.
You can read and listen to Maureen’s poems in Issue 19.
Today we are pleased to feature author Amber Gross as our Authors Talk series contributor. She speaks about the similarities between writing and acting. Experience and emotion and how they manifest in concrete ways lend themselves to both in her craft.
You can read Amber’s short story, “Shooting Day” here.
When I was just out of college, a man I barely knew left me some inheritance money. He had been a friend of my father’s when they were both very young. This man didn’t have any family, had never partnered up or had any kids of his own, so when he died, his estate was to be divided up among the children of his old friends. I’d met him maybe two or three times in my whole life, when he’d come to visit my family in Boston from his home in rural Maine. These were awkward meetings. He seemed much older than my father, spoke with a thick Maine accent and wasn’t used to being around children. His first name was Wesley, which seemed to fit. He’d ask me the standard questions about school or sports, which I would grudgingly answer, while my parents looked on, raising their eyebrows at me, willing me to be more polite. I did my best, but I couldn’t wait to be excused and dodge the guy.
Later, of course, getting a windfall from this odd, shadowy figure would be a big surprise. It was not exactly an amount I could retire on. Not trust fund money or anything. I think it was a little over $4000. But since my family wasn’t wealthy by any stretch, and it was over thirty years ago (when this sum went a lot further) I considered it a fortune. I got a lot of advice about what I should do with it, which mostly centered on putting it in the bank or using it to pay off some school loans. But there was never any question. I was going to travel. I was afflicted with a serious case of wanderlust back then. I’d been lucky enough to study in Italy for a semester and travel a little in Europe. Now I wanted to see everywhere else.
I bought a round-the-world ticket from a now defunct airline and first flew to Tokyo. I had no set plans really, from one day to the next, though I’d had to secure some visas before I left home and get some shots in my ass and had started taking malaria pills too. Aside from the plane ticket, this was going to be shoestring travel. I was always keenly aware of how much money I had left. If I didn’t spend cash on lodging or food, I’d be able to travel longer, further. A youth hostel or a room in a YMCA was a real luxury on that trip. I spent a lot of nights sleeping in train stations or airports or simply curled up outside. I was gone the better part of a year, made it to over 30 countries and lost 40 pounds. Somehow I still came home with a few bucks in my pocket.
I did a lot of stupid things on that trip. I was too trusting by half and got ripped off a few times. As an over-privileged American, I probably deserved it. I got lost, missed travel connections and made a mess of basic phrases in a variety of languages. Still, by the time I reached Bombay I was feeling invincible. (This was before the city’s name was changed to Mumbai.) I drank water out of a trough on a filthy street and then was miserably ill for several weeks. Given the real suffering in India, I didn’t have a right to complain too much. I learned some things when I was traveling. One time a local man in Kowloon quite accurately called me an idiot when I gushed about how much I loved Hong Kong, how I’d love to live there. He asked me what I could possibly know about what it meant to live anywhere, other than where I was actually from. “You rich tourists are all alike,” he snapped. “You see what you want to see.” I hardly felt like a rich tourist. I hadn’t eaten for a day and I was staying in an overcrowded flophouse, but he was right, of course. No matter what my personal circumstances, I had a rich person’s opportunity. I was, after all, travelingaround the world. I didn’t fully understand what this man meant until much later, but it humbled me enough to know when I should keep quiet. One of the reasons I liked traveling alone was because no one was there to see me screw up in these ways or fight with me about directions or tell me which museums to see. I liked the idea of controlling my own narrative and there was something very freeing about doing that half-way around the world, continents away from anyone who knew me by name. The memory of that freedom has stayed with me.
Another real gift of that trip is that it was the beginning of my writing life. Alone in the evening, wherever I was settled for the night, I’d pull out my notebook from my backpack and write about what I’d seen that day, quick snapshots of my life on the road. I was quite faithful to this little journal. I also had another notebook where I started writing stories and some poems, which I guarded feverishly for fear this book would wind up in the wrong hands — meaning anyone with a passing knowledge of the English language. The work was terrible (this is not modesty) but at least I was doing it. I liked the idea of putting words down at the end of the day, of creating characters and plots, imagining dialogue.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I was never lonely on that trip. Not once. I was creating other lives and situations to keep me company. The writing itself might have been triggered by my travels through China, Thailand, Egypt, and all those other astonishing places, but the nightly ritual of jumping into the work didn’t go away when I came home. It remained part of my life when I moved to New York City and then on trips to other countries in my twenties and early thirties. (Wanderlust percolated in my system for a long time.)
Later, as a busy suburban dad, when I wasn’t going anywhere more exotic than the Jersey Shore, my writing habits stayed with me too. I never felt right if I didn’t spend a little time on my work before I turned in for the night, even if that meant only editing a paragraph. Mine is often a slow process, but it’s a deliberate and fairly constant one. Today this all feels more like reflex than habit, as if my writing routine is hardwired into me, a kind of muscle memory. Wesley couldn’t have known what I’d do with his inheritance and I couldn’t have imagined the impact it would have on me to this day. I will always be very grateful to him. And I do still think of Wesley, in fleeting moments and sometimes longer.
Today we are pleased to feature author Marylyn Tan as our Authors Talk series contributor. She talks about the creative process she used to write her poem “bvtch swag.” She explains the significance of the opening quote and how it related to her personal life.
Right now, I’m getting ready for an international artist residency, at the Moulin á Nef, Auvillar, France. This studio is owned by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), where I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of previous writing residencies. As I’m beginning to think about organizing and packing, I thought I’d use this blog post to talk about how one goes about planning for this type of residency.
Right off the bat, the biggest difference (for me, anyway) is that I won’t be planning to take any books along. I’m of the school that thinks that 90% of my job as a writer is to be a reader, and yet I won’t be taking any of the piles of books and journals that are at my feet right now. A hazard waiting to be tripped over, because I don’t want to incur that $200 baggage overweight fee. So I’ll be traveling lightly, relying on the serendipity of the books that are in the little hallway library outside the studios. Last time when I was here (three years ago), I stumbled across a book by Fidelma Cook (an unknown author to me), and this poem came out of something I read in her book:
Why would you want to strip off at our age? Mingle all that sagging, crepey skin with another’s greying flesh? French Leave, Fidelma Cook Well, why would you not? If the lights are dim and the candles are lit,
surely this old skin will do, the two of us rubbing along slowly like freight
trains chugging up a grade. So your stomach’s not a ridge of washboard abs
or tablettes de chocolat as they say here; mine’s a puddle of warm crème brûlée.
Pears ripen slowly as they concentrate their juice. Brie slumps in the shell
of its rind. And both of them, and all of me, are absolument délicieuse.
Another part of traveling lightly means no printer. My usual method of writing is to do a number of drafts by hand, then move to the computer, and I print out copies of all versions. I often find, in revision, that I need to go back a few versions to find the right words or the right lines. But when I was in Auvillar previously, I learned that I could scrap my usual method and edit on the computer, something I didn’t think I could do. Also, I’m wed to writing on lined yellow legal pads. Which I found out do not exist in France. They use grid paper, in much smaller notebooks I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to write on them (Am I superstitious? I guess I’m superstitious), but learned that I could be flexible. Which is, I think, a key to being able to travel, and to use this gift of time wisely.
Last time, I went with a project in mind, which was to do a series of ekphrastic poems based on the Fauves, especially Matisse. I found that having a project gave my work some structure, which seemed to prime the pump and get other poems started. Here’s one of the Matisse poems:
LANDSCAPE AT COLLIOURE, 1905
~Henri Matisse The last line of the poem is also Matisse’s “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.” Henri Matisse This hillside’s the shade of grape soda,
lawn an ooze of electric jaundice,
and the sky’s a violet slither. The red,
blue, and green trees are dancing, supple
and sinuous, and the leaves are singing, a riot
of light. He squeezed out red-orange like plastic
explosives. Painting is an act of belief.
As I began to work on the ekphrastic poems, it occurred to me that I might also create a section where I attempted, in words, to do some of the wild and crazy things that the Fauves did with paints. I called these poems “word salads,” and many of them ended up in form. This one uses abecedarian end rhyme:
after Dorianne Laux’s “Men” It’s tough being a woman, feeling you’re an object to be bought,
an elusive quarry, something to be chased and caught,
when you know you’re more than that. So pull me a draught,
Charlie, give me something dark and frothy. Wars have been fought
for less— I came in wondering what a girl’s got
to do to get herself noticed? I mean, I’m so hot,
I could melt neon. You want my number? Well, jot
it down, big boy. I won’t call you. I have a karaoke slot
at nine pm; I’m thinking a Madonna medley will do. Lots
of water under this dam. I want to be a player, not a mascot.
I want something bathed in dark chocolate, with a nougat
center. I want a lobster in my steaming pot,
champagne on ice, and two chairs by a wrought
iron table on a terrace in France. Whoever sought
the fountain of youth can forget it. The lies the movies taught?
They’re a crock, a foolish dream, a vicious plot.
Life isn’t fair, you’ve got to play your cards, no matter what.
I could have been Dean of Women, a cover girl. An exot-
ic dancer at a go-go bar. Or married to a guy with a yacht.
But I’m not. So pour me another shot of Jack, O Great Zot.
Writing in form and writing ekphrastic poems imposed a sense of discipline on the residency, but I also wanted to leave myself open to serendipity. So when, in my daily visits to the boulangerie, I noticed that there were a number of desserts with religious names, I decided to a) try them all (tough job, but someone had to do it) and b) incorporate them in a poem:
Blessed be the breadmakers of la belle France
who rise before dawn to plunge their arms
into great tubs of dough. Blessed be the yeast
and its amazing redoubling. Praise the nimble
tongues of those who gave names to this plenty: baguette, boule, brioche, ficelle, pain de campagne.
Praise the company they keep, their fancier cousins: croissant, mille feuille, chausson aux pommes. Praise flake after golden flake. Bless their saintly
counterparts: Jésuit, religieuse, sacristain, pets de nonne. Praise be to the grain, and the men who grew it. Bless
the rising up, and the punching down. The great
elasticity. The crust and the crumb. Bless
the butter sighing as it melts in the heat.
The smear of confiture that gilds the plane.
And bless us, too, O my brothers,
for we have sinned, and we are truly hungry.
These poems ended up in my new book, Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017). And now, I’m thrilled to say I’ll be going back again in a few weeks. I’m doing an hour of French lessons every day, I have my passport, my plane ticket, and my packing list (yes, I’m obsessive, and I keep packing lists for all my travels, whether they’re family camping, a beach vacation, or a writing residency). I’m hoping to do more ekphrastic work while I’m there, and so am taking several art calendars along. I’m also hoping to do more poems in form, perhaps the Golden Shovel, perhaps half-rhymed couplets, perhaps embedded sonnets. I know the muse doesn’t appear magically; you have to be at your desk (or at a café, or down by the river, with a notebook) to greet her. But whatever happens, I know this stay is going to be magical.