Saturday, January 30, 2010

Resolve to be an Empowered Writer

Side profile of a businesswoman working on a laptop

Why do we writers leave the responsibility for deciding the worth of our work in the hands of others and then feel completely devastated by rejection? The cure is to become and empowered writer.

The first step is learn your craft. In “No More Rejections,” Alice Orr describes her younger self in the woman's room of a sushi restaurant resting her head against the tiles feeling completely clueless about why her latest manuscript had been canceled after. The solution, according to Orr, is to learn your craft. None of us would trust our bodies to a doctor who said, “Hey, I want to be a surgeon. I think I'll try this operation on you. When I'm finished, I'll ask a senior surgeon whether I did it right.” That may sound facetious, but it's exactly what many aspiring writers do. They labor for months, or years, over their novel then fling it into the mail hoping an editor, agent, or publisher will love it. Anyone can write a novel – right?

As a professional, you should determine whether your novel has potential. You'll still get rejections. Many business decisions and matters of taste are responsible for a publisher's rejection of a manuscript. But when the letter comes back, you should not feel helpless. You do control the destiny of your work, if you understand it's limitations and can assess it's economic potential. Writing is, after all, a business.

The second step is accepting responsibility for your work. In a recent exchange on Amazon's comment section, a writer received a very negative review from a reader. Instead of shrugging it off as a matter of taste, the author became defensive. However, instead of giving her own reasons for the novel's lack of success, she blamed her editor. Editors can be extremely helpful. Mine is superb; but, not all editors are created equal, any more than doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers or mothers. If you really believe your editor is giving you bad advice, it's your responsibility to do something about it. If you elect to take the direction and keep your mouth shut, you can't blame the editor. As a professional, you accepted the criticism and you, not she, are responsible for your work. Your name is on the cover.

This brings us back to the first point. You can only be responsible for your work only if you have a thorough knowledge of your craft. At the start of this new decade, lets all resolve to become empowered writers.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Margaret Fieland -- Mathematical Poet

Pupils Make The Grade At Private Schools

Margaret Fieland brings an unusual talent to poetry: expertise in mathematics. She discusses her work in this short article.

Writing math poems

My undergrad major was mathematics and my grad degree is in computer science, so in a way I'm a natural to be writing poems about mathematics. However, I started writing poetry as a teenager to express the usual teen angst and went on to write poetry for family holidays and the like and when I started writing poetry for publication it was about family and personal life. I never even considered writing poetry about mathematics.

I did, however, write "Round". Round was sparked by my memory of a discussion in a college physics class about the rate at which a cup of coffee would cool and how the shape of the cup played into it. I didn't love college physics, and this was easily the most memorable thing in the whole course. The other thing was a memory from a math class about the sphere having the least surface area per unit volume of any solid figure.

So I wrote "Round" and sent it off and it was accepted. A friend read it and pronounced the finest math poem she'd ever read.

Huh? This is a math poem? She did manage to convince me, and to consider writing a series of them. When I started on the series, I went looking for books on the history of mathematics, and found mighty slim pickings. One book on the story of counting for kids and one or two fairly serious, heavy tomes for grownups. I did find a few interesting articles online, but not a book of the kind I wanted.

I had initially intended not to submit any of the poems to journals, as I intend to publish them as a collection. I did submit several to Umbrella for the special school subjects fall issue and had two accepted, and submitted five this past October to the winter issue of Cyclamens and Swords (yet to appear), as the theme, ticklish subjects, seemed another good fit. I've subbed a query to one publisher and had them reply asking for some sample poems, which I sent them, and am still waiting to hear back. I'm also working on a MG/YA novel about a girl who wants to go to Music camp, and continuing to write poetry.

There is, however, still that little voice that says I should write that non-fiction math book for kids I couldn't find...

Enjoy this example of one of her poems.

Prices Reduced by Fifteen Percent
by Margaret Fieland

There's a giant price reduction,
it says prices are a fraction
just a teeny, tiny fraction
of the price they were before,

but I don't know how to figure
what the price is and how big your
really really big reduction
from the price it was before.

Since I didn't pay attention
when my teacher came to mention
how to figure a percent on
any item in the store,

now I do not know my fractions,
so I don't resist attractions
of the really big reductions
on the items in the store.

I succumb to the seduction
of their really big reduction,
but I wish I'd paid attention --
then I wouldn't be so poor.

More of Margaret's poems are available at Cyclamens and Swords. You can view them at

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Worth Reading Whether you Remember Elvis, or Not.

The King and Dr. Nick is divided into two fascinating parts. First, we get a glimpse of the strange life of a super star; then, we witness what the media can do to derail a private citizen's life.

Elvis Presley was a larger than life individual. This book leads us into Elvis's world and shows us the problems, both health and psychological, he dealt with on a daily basis. It doesn't take much imagination to realize the incredible strain of performing before thousands of people nightly, coupled with the necessary travel,would place on someone. It, also, doesn't take much imagination to see that a person under so much stress would turn to drugs to try to relieve some of the pressure. It's also true that someone with the ego necessary to perform the way Elvis did, and the money generated by those performances, would be a very difficult patient to control. Dr. Nick makes a good cases that he did the best he could.

The second half of the book presents the truly shocking witch hunt engaged in by ABC that finally led to a medical board review and even a criminal trial. It's almost unbelievable that the media could create such a stir and derail the life of a private citizen. If the medical board, or the attorney general, felt there was a criminal case against Dr. Nick, in my view, they should have pursued it immediately after Elvis's death, not several years later after being hounded by the media. This section is well worth reading as a cautionary tale for all of us.

Read the book then judge for yourself whether Dr. Nick was a victim or a criminal. Personally, I think he did the best he could, and that is all any of us can do.