the stars are falling, the stars are failing

I have lots of writer friends. Big surprise—people who like and do similar things frequently congregate. Usually, our “familiars” can decipher us like no others.

Or at least they’re not bored listening to us us bemoan the dialog struggle that lasted for a day and a half, how we killed that sweet poem, can ooh & aah over another writer’s time transitions, that lyrical moment, syntax, the line music. Appreciate the excitement of nailing “it” because they know what it regularly takes to get “it” just right. Plus, they understand the awe of the “gift” poem or book, the one that writes itself.

That said, not everything we write is a 5-star poetry book, novel or memoir. Neither is anyone else’s.

When I go on Goodreads or Amazon and see my friends have given 5 stars to a book, I’m wary. Why? Because it’s either the “classics,” the “ivory tower approved,” or the “I know the writer” rating. It’s safe, not usually real.

For instance, a book of Hemingway’s (in the Canon—not a fan) or Alice Munro’s stories (trendy in lit circles—I praise her): 5 stars. A person you attended grad school with, or a beloved professor: 5 stars. But, something not “literary” enough, not part of the academic academy, a too “accessible” or “overtly political” poet, an assigned book for a class by someone you don’t know personally… the stars start falling.

I do want to support my friends, their hard work and the fact that they’re willing to deal with the pathetic publishing industry. See: the rant-ress to publishers: want some cheese with your whine? too late, you’re already cheesy. But I also want to tell the truth to potential readers looking for good books. With so many books being published these days and my time being quite limited, I appreciate an honest assessment when I’m looking.

So, friends and everyone, how about you stop diluting the ratings—on anything you buy—by nixing the faux 5 stars unless you really mean it? You’ve virtually made it worthless now anyway. Instead, write a pertinent comment. Use those writing skills to tell us what you liked about the book, the writing, the characters. Besides, most of your writer friends really will appreciate the selfless truth—or they should. Honesty is how we hone our craft so we get finer, tighter, better. This is the reason we don’t trust our mom’s, That’s a lovely story, Honey, comments. Am I right?

We need true transforming support. The other is just Spanx.

the rant-ress to publishers: want some cheese with your whine? too late, you’re already cheesy.

The publishing industry is Rasputin. Somebody’s just not feeding it enough poison. Or maybe academia keeps providing the antidote. What will it take to kill it? The art, movie and music trades have all been rebirthing, why can’t we writers get some real relief?

I have poems, mini-essays, a poetry book and a cookbook hanging around my house waiting for me to figure out what to do with them without wounding my spirit. I stopped submitting three years ago when I kept feeling sick at the thought. I did put out an anthology of mushroom poems Decomposition in April 2010 with my quasi-spouse but that’s only because the project preceded this soul sickness.

Most bookstores only carry books from publishing distributors. Many magazines won’t let me–or anyone else–review a book if it’s self-published. And yet what do publishers really do for writers anymore that I didn’t have to do by myself with Decomposition? Besides the cover* choice and layout–which I would have rather done myself–what else was given? Niente. Do writers have to compromise and settle for a “deal” with a pathetic royalty rate and a measly advance? Or go it alone and be “black-listed” from distributors and bookstores?

If you’re a poet, good luck making any money, decent sales** or getting help in marketing. Short story writers, ditto. If you happen to work in a popular genre, like crime or historical fiction, it’s slightly better. Regardless the publishing house, many editors barely f@#king read your book let alone do their job. [many kind agents now do editing tasks] Or they take the teeth out of your work. They’re flooded with manuscripts, understaffed and way overworked. Traditional publishers don’t seem that interested in quality writing anymore but they’re sure interested in sales volume. They might refuse to publish your book because it’s too controversial, doesn’t fit a category or believe it won’t sell.

The whining that goes on by these “poor” publishing houses is eerily similar to the ultra-wealthy complaining about a tax increase they’ll barely feel. Substitute any other business who does so little yet demands so much from it’s clientele—would this be seen as a sound business model? And the academic houses are the biggest bawlers. Well, sorry. Ice boxes had to give way to refrigerators; it’s past time to junk this archaic arrangement.

With indie-publishing, the author has more control over contents, design, appearance and where the book is marketed and distributed. Yes, there’s a risk that with no editors the grammar and spelling will suck or there’ll be no story there. But jeez, lots of books suck now.

To speed up this process, we need some big-time writers to ditch this sinking system and legitimize self-publishing, like Radiohead and Wilco did the in music industry. And writers, stop being so insecure that you need big daddy to validate you as an “accomplished” writer. Let’s stop coddling publishing houses—all of them—and start a revolution: do it yourself.

* I love my cover!

**Decomposition may be my publisher’s best seller; I’m still not getting anything.

somebody needs to be the audience

Am I the only one who feels there’s an excess of fundraisers for environmental causes, women’s issues, children’s rights, animal shelters, peace & justice, local/sustainable foods…? Too many events: wandering tables, auctions, readings, book/CD launches, wine dinners, art shows, festivals/fairs, farm tours…?

All good, solid things to support, and I do. Unfortunately, as the tally of deserved beneficiaries grows, the public shrinks. I often see the same people making the rounds; there’s only so many of us to go around.

Everybody’s a writer. Or artist. Or songwriter, comic, actress, filmmaker, performance artist, restaurant owner…with sub-types in each. As those numbers swell, the “audience” recedes because, repeatedly, the attendees are other writers, artists, activists, farmers…and we have stuff to do, practice, create.

A glut of “performers” clogs the balance of “entertainment” and since there’s no celebrity status in being the audience, it apparently has no value.

But as a poet, I can tell you turn-out matters. Nothing’s worse than giving a reading to a “crowd” of five. Well–actually–one fiction writer friend related a time when he had to read to one person. What’s the protocol for this? He said the lonely visitor was as embarrassed as he was.

A good audience creates a reciprocity of energy exchange, be it live theatre, concert or poetry reading that feeds us; restaurant bustle makes one want to join the fun.

An MFA friend realized at some point that what she really loved was reading books, not writing them. How many writers actually subscribe and/or read the lit mags they submit their work to?

Maybe some of us might want to reevaluate whether we actually like to write or just like to call ourselves writers, if in truth we spend time painting instead of discussing what we’re going to paint, if we play our piano or use it for furniture.

Those of you who aren’t artists/activists, we need you out here to fill those seats with us. In the meantime, we’ll try to stop flooding the world with events, books, CDs, benefits, shows…