The Loss of Author, Poet and Teacher Judith Ortiz Cofer #JudithOrtizCofer

Judith Ortiz Cofer

Poet, author and teacher Judith Ortiz Cofer died December 30, 2016 at her family home in Louisville, Georgia. A native of Hormiguerros, Puerto Rico, Judith was only 64 when her life ended. She retired as a Regents and Franklin Professor of English and creative writing at the University of Georgia in 2013 and leaves behind, her husband, John, daughter, Tanya, brother, Rolando, grandson, Elias and many extended family members. She also left us with a wealth of poems and stories to cherish.

I had the good fortune to meet Judith in 2005 when I interviewed her and reviewed her third volume of poetry, A Love Story Beginning in Spanish, for Athens Magazine. She brought me several of her books that night and we had a long conversation over pasta at DePalma’s about writing and family, plus living and working in Athens, Georgia, where we both agreed creativity floats in the air. We talked about her literary inspirations that night. Her favorites included Georgia-born writers Flannery O’Connor and Alice Walker, as well as Virginia Woolf and Lillian Hellman. She told me about emigrating with her Puerto Rican family to Paterson, New Jersey as a child and how living in those two very different worlds influenced her life as well as her poetry and prose. Judith also loved living in Georgia. I enjoyed running into her at several literary events after interviewing her that night, including the Decatur Book Festival where I sat in a crowded roomful of festival attendees and savored Judith’s voice as she read her poetry.

Judith Ortiz Cofer was a literary writer who wrote, thought and spoke in both Spanish and English. Her work won many awards, including a 1991 PEN/Martha Albrand Special Citation in Nonfiction and a Pushcart Prize for her memoir Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhoodand a Pulitizer Prize nomination for her first novel, The Line of the Sun. In 2010, Judith was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

Writers live in a dual world. There’s the physical world where they go through their days doing many of the same things non-writers do. And there’s the inner world where a writer is always writing, where the words flow but don’t appear to readers until they are displayed on a book page or an e-reader screen. When a writer dies, the heart stops beating and words stop flowing. But what remains, in addition to those who loved the writer as a family member, friend, or reader is the written words. Judith Ortiz Cofer’s published words still float in the air over Athens, Georgia and all over the world, including her beloved Puerto Rico. Judith the person died too young, but her beautiful, lyrical words live on in the hearts and minds of readers. The depth and music and meaning of her words will comfort us in the days and weeks and months and years to come.

#JudithOrtizCofer

 

 

You can read more about author Judith Ortiz Cofer on the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame website.

Wishing Everyone a Happy Holiday!

2016 has been an interesting year for our family and for our country. In the Seagraves family, we welcomed a new grandson, Patrick fullsizeoutput_5041William Seagraves, on July 4th! Of course we are all in love with him, as well as his big brother George. We look forward to watching both boys grow up and hope we can spend more time with them in the coming year. Our grown children and their families both moved. One to a new condo in Atlanta. The other up to Johnson City, Tennessee. And we purchased a building lot back in our hometown. We plan to move, too, sometime in the new year.

The year we are about to say goodbye to, 2016, has been a year of surprises, to say the least. At our house, we love everyone, despite their voting actions. We learned a long time ago to love the person even if we don’t love his or her actions. So, though I am doubtful of a bright future for our country in the near future, given what has happened politically, I continue to have hope.

Yes, I am an optimist, no matter what. I continue to hope despite feeling like a dark cloud is hanging over our world. I continue to hope even with doubts and yes, fears, about the coming days and months and years.

fullsizeoutput_503dDespite the cloud of hate that seems to be settling over our land, at our house, we will continue to care about climate change. We will continue to believe in equality for all. As always, and especially now, we will continue to wish for peace all over the world and we will work towards making the world a better place for our grandchildren and yours.

One thing that we have learned during our long years of life is that change is the only thing we can count on. Things change. Maybe not as quickly as we could like, but they will change. Leadership will change. Dark clouds will eventually lift. Good will always trump evil. We have to believe that, especially now.

In the coming new year, there is hope and love all around us. And for those of us, and there are many of us, who were disappointed and hurt and damaged by what happened this year, it is more important than ever for us to hang on to hope and love and the change that will most certainly come eventually. That change will lift the dark cloud. It will restore what we have recently lost. It will make the future bright again. We can help lift that cloud. We still have the power within us, along with hope and love.

Summers of my Childhood in Athens, Georgia

Summers of my Childhood in Athens, Georgia

 

Summer 2016 has arrived and life is good as we await the birth of our second grandson. He’ll be a July baby, born in the hot, humid heat of a Georgia summer. Thinking of the tiny boy to come and his older brother George, who will be 20 months old when his brother arrives, I find myself drifting back to my own childhood summers growing up in Athens, Georgia.

The best days of my Athens summers were spent floating and splashing in the cool, chlorinated waters of Legion Pool. This huge, popular oasis located near the University of Georgia campus was filled with the shouts and laughter of countless Athens kids back in the day.

It also was the site of my first swimming lessons. I really tried hard to learn how to swim at Legion Pool. I say tried to learn because I never really became a confident, or even a proficient swimmer, despite numerous swimming lessons during my childhood.

Later, on a visit to nearby Lake Wellbrook (before it became a subdivision), I found myself drifting deeper and deeper, bouncing up from the muddy lake bottom numerous times, listening to Peter and Gordon sing “World Without Love” on the concession stand jukebox, hearing laughter and happy voices on the beach as I bounced my feet into the mud one more time and failed to break though the water’s surface. I was in too deep, holding my breath, attempting to move toward the more shallow water with my feet pushing against squishy mud.

As I finally broke the water’s surface and floundered around with my tired arms, spouting dirty lake water, I realized no one on the beach had noticed. For the first time in my young life, it dawned on me that I could sink into the water, my feet could mire in the mud, I could go down and never come back up and life would go on. Just not for me. The music would keep playing, the people on the beach would continue to drink Nehis and Cokes and Pepsi and the world would continue to revolve without me. The world didn’t need a small girl who didn’t work hard enough during her Legion Pool swimming lessons to go on.

This was a heavy swimming lesson for a young girl on a hot summer day in Athens, Georgia and it helped to make me who I am today.

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Legion Pool in Athens, Georgia has been open for 79 years! Visit this website to learn more about swimming in Legion Pool.

Read about the history of Legion Pool here.

Remembering Muhammad Ali

Remembering Muhammad Ali

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.-Muhammad Ali

In 1968, staff members of the Athens (Georgia) High School Thumb Tack Tribune flew to Chicago over the Thanksgiving holiday for the National Scholastic Press Association convention in the Palmer House hotel. When we weren’t attending journalism classes, checking out Chicago’s Hippie headquarters in Old Towne, or shopping downtown, we explored floor after floor of the grand, old hotel, riding up and down in the elevators, running through hall after hall, and causing way more noise than was allowed.

Finally, there was just one more place to conquer: the top floor which housed the Penthouse Suite. Up, up, up we rode. TPalmer House Hotelhe elevator stopped. The door opened and there, in the hallway stood Muhammad Ali, surrounded by bodyguards. He would have been 26 years old at the time and was stuck in that time of no fights due to refusing to be inducted into the armed forces in 1966.

We were all in awe of Ali that day. In 1964, after beating Sonny Liston in a major upset and winning the heavyweight title, Cassius Clay (his original name) declared, “I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.”

At that moment in time, on the top floor of the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, I thought Muhammed Ali was the prettiest thing that had ever lived. Young, massive, strong, gorgeous, he looked perfect that day and totally unapproachable.

Of course that didn’t stop me from walking up to him and asking for his autograph, even though, as I stared up at Ali, he looked eight feet tall. I thought he’d refuse my request, but he didn’t. He took the scrap of paper from my outstretched hand and scribbled his name.

I still have the scrap of paper and the memory of being in Ali’s presence during my visit to Chicago’s Palmer House hotel. Was he the greatest? Maybe. No doubt, he had gifts that most humans can only dream about. Athletic ability. Good Looks. And he knew the power of words.

I wrestled with an alligator, I tussled with a whale, I handcuffed lightning . . . last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.

But this strong, heavyweight champion of the world, couldn’t beat death. Like many around the world, I mourn his passing and now I cherish even more those few moments in time when I stood in his presence and he signed his name.

Marigold Magic

Marigold Magic

     Way back in June 1995, when I used to write freelance articles for Athens Magazine, I wrote an article about Winterville, Georgia and included a sidebar called “Marigold Magic” about the popular Marigold Festival. Today, in celebration of the upcoming May 21, 2016 Winterville Marigold Festival, I am posting this article here.

Marigold Magic

by Donny Seagraves

     Donny Seagraves at the Winterville Ga depotThe morning before Winterville’s Marigold Festival Saturday dawns humid and cloudy. At city hall, Wesley Whitehead attends to last-minute details before the arrival of hundreds of visitors the next day. 

     “It never rains on Marigold Saturday,” the former Winterville mayor assures a concerned citizen who asks what will happen if the weatherman’s prediction of thunderstorms comes true. 

     City clerk Frances Brooks, a former five-term member of the Winterville City Council, doesn’t have time to worry about possible rain as she frantically answers telephone calls from craft and food vendors and other festival participants, asking for directions to the “Marigold Capital of the World.”

     Outside in the park, arts-and-crafts chairperson Mary Quinn, welcomes vendors and serves as a community liaison and one-woman information service for out-of-town guests. Other Marigold Festival Committee members, including general manager Ray Shockley, join Mary to offer assistance and make sure things run smoothly.

Winterville Marigold Express Train     Marigold Festival Saturday morning finds clouds still hovering over Winterville. But overnight, the magic of the festival has appeared: kiddie rides at Three Flags over Winterville; a bustling village of vendors hawking everything from antiques and collectibles to stained glass and woodcrafts; antique vehicles polished and ready to join the parade.

     There also are several portable Coke Wagons (large metal concession trailers) where members of the Winterville United Methodist Church, Winterville First Baptist Church, and Family Worship Center youth groups sell soft drinks and hot dogs to the gathering crowd.

     Sausage and ham vapors from the country breakfast cooking in the depot float on the air as runners, sweaty and winded from their efforts in the 10K road race, catch their breath and gulp Gatorade. Teenagers test their pitching speed at a booth that features a radar machine, while dogs sporting ribbons from the Canine Fun Time Dog Show sashay by on their way to the fountain on the square.


Police sirens announce the parade, which winds through town. The tantalizing aroma of roasting Bavarian almonds drifts through the crowd as a caravan of deep green John Deere tractors rolls down Main Street. Little Miss, Junior Miss and Miss Marigold wave. A float holding “Marigold John’s” empty rocking chair injects a touch of sadness into what one journalist calls a “communion of the community.”

     At the old Winterville High School auditorium, former classmates gather for a class reunion with retired teachers and Dan Bramblett, the last principal of the school. Class spirit still lies in the hearts and memories of these native sons and daughters who travel to Winterville from all over the country each June to remember their high school days.

     Four teenaged girls fill paper cups with ice and top the cool cubes with fizzy Coca-Cola from the United Methodist Church Coke Wagon concession stand near the square. Wesley WhiteheadHot dogs steam in the cooker. When the Youth Fellowship boys take over that night, a loud country band rocks the town during the traditional street dance. As festival participants line-dance to Brooks and Dunn’s ” Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” the boys join in the fun, swaying and carousing with each other until the Coke Wagon threatens to tip over.

     Wesley Whitehead walks through the Square with his wife Mary, a gifted pianist and classy former first lady of Winterville. As official host and hostess of the Marigold Festival, they have just finished a whirlwind week that included a banquet, a scholarship pageant and more marigolds than most people can imagine in a lifetime.

     As the band plays “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Whitehead inhales night air and smiles. This year’s town celebration is almost over. Soon the Marigold Festival Committee, under the guidance of the council and Bill Orr, the new mayor, will meet and begin planning next year’s event.

     “It really ain’t as easy as it looks,” Whitehead says, melting into the dancing crowd.

This article originally appear in the June 1995, Vol. 7, No. 2, issue of Athens Magazine.

 

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History of the Winterville Marigold Festival by Donny Seagraves

History of the Winterville Marigold Festival by Donny Seagraves

On Saturday, May 21, 2016, the city of Winterville, Georgia, where I lived for many years before moving to Cleveland, Tennessee, will host the annual Marigold Festival. To celebrate, I am republishing this history of the original Marigold Festival, (1971-2002), which I wrote in 1995 while working on the festival publicity committee and as a member of the Board of Directors. 

History of the Winterville Marigold Festival

by Donny Seagraves

Transport yourself back to the year 1971, the time of the first ever Marigold Festival in Winterville, Georgia. Richard Nixon was president of the United States. The controversial Vietnam War raged as college students and citizens of all ages marched in antiwar protests. Our first manned outer space all-terrain sports utility vehicle, the Lunar Rover, was about to explore the moon’s surface during the Apollo 15 mission while we watched on TV.



Meanwhile, back in Winterville, Georgia, population 551, we wore bell-bottomed jeans, love beads and long hair and thought everything was “groovy.” In the heyday of “flower-power,” and “all you need is love,” the Winterville Marigold Festival began with a flower and the idea of rejuvenating the community and extending friendship to the world.



Wesley Whitehead, a new mayor in the seventies, didn’t wear love beads or long hair, but apparently he did appreciate “flower power.” Looking around his hometown, he didn’t like what he saw. The railroad tracks that used to bring out-of-town students to Winterville High School and drummers (salesmen) to town to call on the various merchants that operated businesses in the area, were now deserted and overgrown with weeds. The old depot railroad station, dilapidated, was used as a warehouse for strong-smelling, rat-breeding feed. Across the square, the frame building that had once served as an office for Drs. Carter and Coile sagged, unpainted, and often flooded from a caving roof. Other buildings on the square also were in serious disrepair.



An official floral symbol for Winterville might help revive interest in the community, Wesley decided. So he asked the Civinette Club, a ladies’ auxiliary of the Civitans, to come up with a flower for Winterville. After some discussion, Mattie Coile suggested the Marigold. She pointed out that it was bright, hardy and was a symbol of friendship all over the world, dating back to Cortez’s time.



Since gold was the primary color of the 70s, the marigold was the perfect choice for an official flower, and it soon caught on in Winterville. Citizens planted marigolds, in front of businesses and homes. Hundreds more of the perky flowers were planted along the railroad tracks, forming a gold and green carpet.



Mayor Wesley Whitehead looked at the beautiful marigolds blooming around town and decided that a community festival would be just the thing to promote community spirit and friendship. It would also help fund the restoration projects that had already begun and might encourage Winterville’s people to do things together again and former residents to return and join in the activities.



As is the case with any new idea, some first reactions to the festival proposal were less than enthusiastic. But the mayor persevered and gathered members of the community for a meeting where he emphasized the possibilities of the festival. The Marigold Festival would bring hundreds of visitors to Winterville and would help preserve American art, crafts, and music, he told citizens. The $5 fee paid by vendors would help cover festival expenses, and any profits of the festival would go toward restoration and beautification projects in the community.

Citizens agreed to hold the first annual Marigold Festival June 18-19, 1971, and preparations began. According to an early newspaper account, 10,000 marigolds were planted by Winterville’s citizens in one day in preparation for the upcoming festival. A former resident of Winterville, Jimmy Coile, who was a landscape architect with the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, donated plans for a fountain in the town square in honor of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. C. S. Coile. Citizens raised money to build the fountain on land donated in 1869 by Sarah Pittard, beneath the shade of two stately deodar cedars.



A program from Winterville’s first annual Marigold Festival lists an outstanding lineup of entertainment and events. There was a 10:00 a.m. “excursion train ride.” Antique furniture was auctioned in the park by a well-known area auctioneer, Claude Pardue. In the field behind the Baptist Church, the Methodist Youth Group and the Baptist Youth Group competed in a softball game. At 6:00 p.m., a barbecue chicken supper with all the trimmings was prepared by local resident Dick Hodges who had the reputation of cooking barbecue “better than the best.”

 A square dance was held on Town Square around the new fountain. Billy Dillworth, Talmadge Craig and the Playboys, and the Mountain City Cloggers entertained. Cornbread, cold buttermilk and “real country butter” were available in the Blacksmith shed on the Square. Antiques were displayed in the Depot, including Mrs. Jack Thomas’s antique doll collection. Festival attendees could purchase “cold watermelon, sugar-cured hams, fresh Georgia peaches and fresh produce” from stands in the Town Square area.

A highlight of the first festival was demonstrations of craft work including Michael Pitts’s pottery and Ed Dye’s hand-dipped candles. Demonstrated crafts also included copper jewelry making, spinning, decoupage, tole painting, furniture refinishing, engraving, quilting and making peanut brittle.

In the park, The Merrymakers, a Dixieland Band that included Mary Whitehead on piano and vocalist Joan Biles, entertained, along with many others.

 Winterville’s first Marigold Festival parade was led by the Third Army Band. A picture in the Sunday, June 20, 1971 Athens Banner-Herald/Daily News, shows Lt. Gov. Lester Maddox and his wife riding in a convertible, which was driven through the streets of Winterville by Mayor Wesley Whitehead, who was dressed in a tuxedo. Along the parade route, Maddox got out of the car and performed his famous stunt, riding his bicycle backwards. Winterville still has that bicycle today. Maddox was also the keynote speaker at Winterville’s first Marigold Festival. 

Other special guests that first year included: Marianne Gordon, a former Winterville resident (now former wife of entertainer Kenny Rogers) and a regular on the Hee-Haw Television show; WAGA-TV Sports Director Ed Thilenius; State Sen. Paul Brown; Grady Pittard, judge of the State Court of Clarke County and a Winterville native; Joan Biles, chairwoman of the steering committee for the festival; and Brenda Seagraves of Winterville, a former “Miss Pandora” at the University of Georgia who also competed in the Miss America Pageant.



Joan Biles (who later became Winterville’s first female mayor) and Sybil Deacon served as the first Chairpersons of the Marigold Festival Committee, with Mayor Wesley Whitehead as Honorary Chairman, and Whitehead and his wife, Mary, as official Host and Hostess. At the Miss Marigold pageant, Marie Fleeman (Evans) was chosen as our first Miss Marigold.

The highlight of the second Marigold Festival was the dedication of the newly refurbished Carter-Coile Country Doctor’s Museum.

At the third festival, in 1973, the historic train station was highlighted. The fourth Marigold Festival featured the dedication of our community library.



Over the past 30 years, Winterville has staged a Marigold Festival each June. Because of this annual community celebration, our town is known across America as “the Marigold Capital of the World,” and “the place where the marigold works its magic.” Countless community volunteers and businesses have donated time, talent and resources to make the Winterville Marigold Festival a success. Employees and elected officials of the City of Winterville have done likewise. As the official radio station of the Marigold Festival, WNGC has provided live coverage of the festival on Marigold Saturday.



The Winterville Marigold Festival was discontinued in 2003 by the Board of Directors of Marigold Festival, Inc., the nonprofit corporation that sponsored and administered the festival and the committee for the festival. The board thanks all volunteers, past and present for all that hard work and all those wonderful marigold memories.



Note: After being discontinued n 2003, the Marigold Festival was revived a few years later by former mayor, Emily Eisenman and a dedicated group of volunteers.

This article is reprinted in a slightly altered form from The Winterville Marigold Festival’s 25th anniversary issue of The Winterville Iceberg. It is used with the permission of the author.

© 1995 Donny B. Seagraves.

Fran Cannon Slayton, Author of When The Whistle Blows, Needs Our Help

Fran Cannon Slayton, Author of When The Whistle Blows, Needs Our Help

I met Fran Cannon Slayton, author of the children’s middle grade novel, When The Whistle Blows, published in 2009 by Philomel Books, at the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Alliance (SIBA) trade show in Greenville, South Carolina in September 2009. My children’s middle grade novel, Gone From These Woods, had just been published by Random House’s Delacorte Press. Fran’s When The Whistle Blows had recently been published, too, and our publishing companies had agreed to donate 60 of our books for us to autograph and hand out to SIBA booksellers.

Still giddy from meeting one of my author idols, Patricia Reilly Giff, author of Lily’s Crossing and Pictures of Hollis Woods, both Newbery Honor books, at the luncheon earlier that day, I watched as SIBA volunteers brought cartons of my freshly printed novel to the signing table where my traveling companion and assistant, daughter Jenny, and I unpacked them. Inhaling the new book aroma, I admired the cover art that featured Daniel Sartain, the protagonist of my story, standing in a deep, dark, woods scene. In just a few minutes, I would autograph 60 copies and send them out into the literary world where I hoped the recipients , independent booksellers, would promote my book to their bookstore visitors. One of those booksellers was Janet Geddis, who opened her Athens, Georgia Avid Bookshop in October 2011.

Next to me, Fran Cannon Slayton sat empty-handed, watching nervously as more cartons of books were delivered to other authors in the room. When news that her publisher’s book delivery had been delayed and her books would not arrive in time, tears filled her eyes. I felt guilty as I signed and gave away copies of my book while Fran signed bookmarks and promised to send each bookseller at SIBA a copy of When The Whistle Blows. Such bad luck forwhenthewistleblows a newly-published author.

Flash forward to the present, 2016. Author Fran Cannon Slayton is having more bad luck. This mom of 12-year-old Hannah, wife of Marshall for 26 years, and daughter of salt-of-the-earth Jim and Betty, was suddenly diagnosed with brain cancer on Sunday, January 17th, 2016. Fran and her family all live together in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her dad also has cancer.

francannonslayton4So how can we help this unlucky author and her family? Fran, who actually blogged live from her own brain surgery February 11, 2016, has a website and blog: francannonslayton.com where you can follow her brain cancer journey and read about several ways you can help. One of the best ways to help is to buy Fran’s book, When The Whistle Blows, a gentle, set-back-in-time series of stories about a small town in West Virginia, a boy named Jimmy Cannon and a train. Each purchase helps this gifted author support her family.

Life is not fair. But when bad things happen to great authors, like Fran Cannon Slayton, we can help.

 

Your Odds of Getting Traditionally Published

Your Odds of Getting Traditionally Published

Getting Published: Me

I knew the odds were against me when I decided to seek publication for my books way back in 1989. Still, I decided to go for it. Twenty years later, in 2009, I held my first published novel in my hands. My book, Gone From These Woodsa children’s middle grade novel for younger readers 9 – 12, actually was purchased on July 13, 2007. Between that time and publication day, August 25, 2009, I experienced eight months of rewriting and over a year of waiting.

Was it worth the seemingly endless rewriting and the long wait? Yes! For me, having a novel published was a lifelong dream and my top goal. Getting the call from Michelle Poploff, Vice President and Editorial Director at Random House Children’s Books, was like winning the literary lottery.

Getting Published: You

You might be wondering what your odds are of getting the call and holding your published book in your hands. As you probably know, they aren’t good. In fact, the odds of getting published are dismal. According to industry professionals, your odds of getting published by a traditional New York publisher like Random House (now Penguin Random House) are about the same as becoming a professional baseball player on a major league team.

In other words, your odds are almost non-existent. On top of that, the odds of seeing your book in print (via a traditional publisher) in today’s rapidly changing, digitally evolving world of publishing are getting worse. What can you do to improve your odds of getting published?

What It Takes and the Statistics

According to author Sheryl Gwyther, “Writers who succeed are those who persevere through first drafts that feel like pushing jelly uphill; refuse to take second-best for the multiple rewrites; do the spit and polish at the end; then cope with rejection letters and emails, and rewrite and edit again.”

Another blogger, Ray Wong, says less than 5% get published. There are hundreds of thousands of writers trying to break into the business every year. But there simply aren’t that many publication slots available.

Laura Backes, publisher of Children’s Book Insider, says editors at mid to large-sized publishing houses get upwards of 5,000 unsolicited submissions a year. About 95% are rejected right off the bat. Most of those get form letters. A few promising authors get personalized notes stating why the manuscript was rejected.

Of the 5% left, some are queries for which the editors request the entire manuscript. Others are manuscripts submitted in their entirety. Those go to the next stage of the acquisitions process. They get passed around the editorial department, presented at editorial meetings, perhaps looked at by the sales staff to get a sense of the market for the book.

The end result is that 1 – 2% of unsolicited submissions are actually purchased for publication. 

That sounds like horrible odds, doesn’t it? 

Beating the Odds

Here are several ways you can beat the odds and get your book published.

  • Hone Your Craft. It’s a phrase you’ll hear over and over again. It means read a lot, especially in your chosen genre, and write, write, write, and write some more. Then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite some more.
  • Read and study writer’s reference books and how-to guides. I have a list  of books I recommend here.
  • Join a writing group and get critiques.
  • Join a professional group like SCBWI and read and learn from the reference material on their website and network with other members.
  • Go to conferences and listen to what editors and agents and published writers say. Network at these conferences and use the privilege you may get there to submit to the editor and agent speakers. This may be your best shot at getting your submission actually read. (Read how this worked for me here.)
  • Get an agent. They’re generally harder to get than an editor, but if you get one, you automatically rise to the upper 5% of submissions — if your agent agrees to market your manuscript.
  • Persevere. The number one way to beat the odds and get published is to persevere. Generally, the writers who put their butts in the chair and write every day for years and years and years are the ones who get published. If publication is what you want, do the work, do the time, and beat the odds!
WIK 2013 Blog Tour: Meet Author, Poet, Artist Robyn Hood Black

WIK 2013 Blog Tour: Meet Author, Poet, Artist Robyn Hood Black

Welcome to the 2013 WIK Blog Tour. I’m honored today to share a recent conversation with writer, poet and artist Robyn Hood Black. Robyn is a member of the outstanding faculty for the 2013 Writing and Illustrating for Kids (WIK) conference, which will take place October 12, 2013, in Birmingham, AL. Michelle Poploff, who edited my children’s middle grade novel, Gone From These Woods, is another member of the faculty, along with Lou Anders, Doraine Bennett, Amanda Cockrell, Heather Montgomery, Nancy Raines Day, Jennifer Echols, Dianne Hamilton, Janice Hardy, Sarah Frances Hardy, Sally Apokedak, and Chris Rumble. Be sure to check out the end of this post for links to each stop on the tour.

WIK is one of the best places to get inspired, gather tips on the craft of writing, and to learn about the business of publishing fiction and nonfiction for children. The conference also offers an opportunity to meet editors, agents, and an incredibly supportive network of working writers and artists. This annual conference is hosted by the Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and llustrators (SCBWI). To find out more or to register, visit https://southern-breeze.net/

Now, here’s my conversation with WIK 2013 faculty member Robyn Hood Black.

D: Welcome to my blog, Robyn. Tell me how you became a writer, poet and artist. What/who were your early influences — the people and experiences that led you to your present career?

R: Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, Donny!  Great question.

I was blessed to come from a family which highly valued creativity.  My mom spent endless hours nurturing whatever projects my brother, Mike, and I wanted to make.  For me these included entire villages of pipe-cleaner people with handmade clothes, or paintings, or countless “books” and cards.  My father was very creative and praised originality.  Imagination was always encouraged, and books and music and art were readily available.

D: You have a business called artsyletters. Tell me more about this. Is it all online or do you also do shows and festivals?

R: My artsyletters business is turning a year old!  Nowadays I guess I’d be called an “artist entrepreneur” – there’s a strong “makers” movement out there for creative folks with a bit of a business bent.  But I remember my mom taking me around to local gift shops when I was a kid to sell my little painted birds (stones) affixed to shellacked pieces of pine bark!  And I did some art shows and such in my life B. C. (Before Children).

Now I create “literary art with a vintage vibe” – note cards, bookmarks, collages, altered books, some calligraphy – my favorite media include printmaking, pen and ink, and mixed media with all kinds of vintage treasures (including stuff I pick up off the ground…).  If it’s rusty or dusty and especially if it has writing on it, it’s probably not safe around me.  I sell my work online through my Etsy shop – https://www.etsy.com/shop/artsyletters – and also at art shows and book festivals.  I’ll have a booth at the Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta this weekend!

D: Robyn, how do you balance writing and art? Do you consider these separate parts of your creative life?

R: Still working on the balance… and I’ve never been able to completely abandon one for the other. I remember struggling in college at Furman about whether to major in English or Art.  I picked English, and I do consider myself a writer first.  Now  that I’m also making and selling art which celebrates reading and writing, I couldn’t be happier.  At my first art show last year, a college English teacher bought bookmarks to give to her school’s first class of English majors (a rare declaration these days – sigh.).  This week I had two Etsy sales– one from a West Coast poet, and one from a history professor in the Midwest. I feel honored to be reaching a literary target market with my art!

D: I first met you at a SCBWI conference and I know you’ve been heavily involved in coordinating conferences for the Southern Breeze Region for many years. How have your experiences attending, planning and coordinating conferences helped you as a writer?

R: I could never say enough good things about getting involved in SCBWI and volunteering. What an amazing, talented, knowledgeable, generous group of folks. It’s important to spend time with your “tribe,” to interrupt the busy days of your life to do that. My years coordinating conferences gave me confidence dealing with all kinds of publishing professionals, as well as offering helpful peeks inside the industry.  Also, I absolutely treasure the life-long friends I’ve met through Southern Breeze.

D: You’ve published books for children and also write for magazines and a blog. Which format is harder/more challenging? Which do you prefer?

R: Tough one. Books have been the biggest thrill (and though it’s been a while, I still have ambitions for more books
with my name on the spine!), but I love writing for periodicals and anthologies, too.  I started actively blogging on Poetry Friday each week a few years ago on my author blog, http://www.robynhoodblack.com/blog, and that’s been a wonderful way to connect with other poets as well as teachers, librarians, and poetry enthusiasts.  It’s offered an outlet to interview some amazing folks as well as occasionally share my own writing.  I started my (weekly for now) art blog http://artsyletters.com a year ago.  No lie – two blogs, even if posting just once or twice a week, is work. I just took a little hiatus in August – we were busy getting both kids settled into colleges in different states and my husband settled in a new job.  But I look forward to getting back in the swing of those blog deadlines and to connecting with folks from around the world who share similar passions.

D:  I once read that for a prose writer, studying poetry is like a football player studying ballet. (Sounds like I could use a little poetry makeover in that last sentence!) Can you give workshop attendees an idea of what they might learn at your wik13 workshop, “Poetry Tips for Prose Writers?” Why should they sign up for your session?

R: Interesting analogy! I’m not coordinated enough to play football or do ballet. ;0) But I do have a good bit of experience writing in all kinds of genres – fiction, nonfiction, and my first love, poetry.  I hope attendees will leave our workshop with neurons sparking away with ideas to liven up their fiction and nonfiction projects.  We’ll explore examples of how successful authors have employed poetic devices to enrich passages, and we’ll try out some techniques.  (Works-in-progress welcome!)

D: Your workshop sounds very interesting. Tell me, what makes a poem sing for you? Is it the sound of the words? The way the poem is constructed? The emotion conveyed? The originality?

R: It could be any or all of those things!  When the elements of a poem work together – the ideas, the sound of the words, rhythm, structure, appearance even –  to create an image that both surprises and registers as truth, I’m hooked.

D: As you know, every word in a poem is important and there is no room for any words that don’t “fit.” Is there any word (that we can mention in this blog post) that you feel should never be in a poem?

R: Ha! Well, I’d never say “never,” especially to another writer.  After taking a workshop years ago with renowned poet and anthologist Lee Bennett Hopkins, I am far less free with the words “and” and “the” in a poem.  Only if there’s no way around it will I include them now, and only if they seem absolutely necessary.  If you’re ever fortunate enough to have a critique with Rebecca Kai Dotlich, as I’ve been, you’ll find that behind that warm and friendly demeanor she’s an absolute stickler about making EACH and EVERY word in a poem carry its weight and then some.  No lazy writing.

While I think writing a long piece of prose is a different thing from writing a poem, applying that same kind of poetic precision in select passages can make them sparkle.  Or sizzle – depending on which effect you’re going for!

D:  I agree. Who are your favorite poets? What makes them your favorites? Do you have a favorite poem? If so, why do you like this poem best?

R: Many incredibly talented poets are writing for children today; I’d hesitate to start naming names because 1.) this blog post would be very, very long and 2.) the moment I hit “send,” I’d think of someone else whose work I love. I join many other poets in unabashed praise for the work of the late Valerie Worth.  I do think her short poems are just magical – they invite the reader to see something familiar in an unfamiliar way. Our own Irene Latham has recently featured many of Worth’s poems on her blog, “Live Your Poem.” Here are the last couple of stanzas of one of my favorite Valerie Worth poems, which Irene posted Friday and which I’ve shared before, too: 

– from “cat”

She settles slight neat muscles
Smoothly down within
Her comfortable fur,

Slips in the ends, front paws,
Tail, until she is readied,
Arranged, shaped for sleep.

Classic poets I love include Blake, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Dickinson, Williams. I’m also inspired by many contemporary haiku writers, as well as the “old masters” – Basho, Buson, Issa, and Chiyo-ni.

One of my favorite pieces of writing ever is the first essay in Nancy Willard’s TELLING TIME. It’s called, “How Poetry Came into the World and Why God Doesn’t Write It.”  She’s just brilliant.

D: What are you working on now? Any new books in the publication pipeline? Poems, prose, articles?

R: I have some poetry in the publication pipeline – contributions to a couple of projects I’m not at liberty to share yet.  But I also have one I think I can share, because Lee Bennett Hopkins shared it himself in an interview!  He’s doing a collection for the very youngest readers and listeners for Abrams, and I’m thrilled that a poem of mine is scheduled to be included.

I regularly submit haiku to journals such as Modern Haiku, Frogpond, and Acorn and am always honored when a poem makes it in an issue.  (I’ll be on a panel at the upcoming Haiku Society of America/southeast Region Haikufest in Atlanta at the end of October, which should be a fantastic weekend.)  https://www.facebook.com/events/418063954956424/

Now that my husband and I are brand-new empty nesters, I plan to return to book projects I’ve had in the works a while.  Some have had helpful formal feedback at previous wik and Springmingle conferences, and they are waiting for me to roll up my sleeves and get to work!

Thanks again for the interview – here’s to a terrific wik conference!

D: Thank you for stopping by, Robyn. I think conference attendees are in for a treat at your workshop. I hope they all bring works in progress.

If you’re interested in learning more about other members of the conference faculty, follow the WIK blog tour links below:

Aug. 28            Author Matt de la Peña at Stephanie Moody’s Moodyviews
Editor Lou Anders at F.T. Bradley’s YA Sleuth
Aug. 29            Author Doraine Bennett at Jodi Wheeler-Toppen’s Once Upon a Science Book
Author Robyn Hood Black at Donny Seagraves’ blog
Aug. 30            MFA program director Amanda Cockrell at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog
Illustrator Prescott Hill at Gregory Christie’s G.A.S.
Aug. 31            Author Heather Montgomery at Claire Datnow’s Media Mint Publishing blog
Editor Michelle Poploff at Laura Golden’s Just Write
Sept. 3             Author Nancy Raines Day at Laurel Snyder’s blog
Author Jennifer Echols at Paula Puckett’s Random Thoughts from the Creative Path
Sept. 4             Editor Dianne Hamilton at Ramey Channell’s The Painted Possum
Author Janice Hardy at Tracey M. Cox’s A Writer’s Blog
Sept. 5             Author / illustrator Sarah Frances Hardy at Stephanie Moody’s Moodyviews
Agent Sally Apokedak at Cheryl Sloan Wray’s Writing with Cheryl
Sept. 6             Author / illustrator Chris Rumble at Cyrus Webb Press.

                         Agent Jennifer Rofe at Cathy Hall’s blog

 

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Spring is Writing Time

Spring is Writing Time

What Am I Burning With?

One of the best ways to encourage yourself to write is to ask yourself this simple question: “What am I burning with?” I’ve asked myself this very question many times and sometimes it has resulted in a piece of writing. It might be a newspaper column or a magazine article. Sometimes it’s a poem. Every now and then, the “What am I burning with?” question results in a book.

If the burning question doesn’t get your writing engine started, you might try a writing prompt. There are many available in books and on the web. Put the words, “writing prompts” into Google and more writing prompts than you’ll ever be able to use will appear on your computer, tablet, or smart phone screen.

So, what are you burning with? And can it ignite a story? You’ll never know until you try.

 

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