Tag Archives: literary life

I’ll Be on the Radio Today!

29 Aug

WIOX

The lovely Simona David interviewed me for WIOX Community Radio to discuss the writing workshop — Literary Relationships: Writing In, Into, and To Community — I’ll be leading at the Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers. Tune in this Monday at 1pm to hear about why I love Hobart Book Village, why you need literary friendships like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac‘s, and how to deal with jealousy in the industry.

The Hobart Festival of Women Writers takes place September 9th through September 11 in the Catskills. Here’s a description of the writing workshop I’ll be leading:

Surveying famous literary friendships throughout history—Dickinson and Higginson; Lewis and Tolkien; Hurston and Rawlings; Kerouac and Ginsberg …. we’ll discuss the value of friendship among writers from both a personal and professional perspective as well as how writers today can achieve this type of community through such avenues as residencies, writing groups, and social media.

We’ll also consider the notion of dialoguing with writers past, present, and future through parody, homage, collaboration, and criticism. In-class writing exercises will explore these ideas and more.

Tune in to WIOX Community Radio today at 1pm to learn more!

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

9 Aug

StephanieNikolopoulos2

“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It’s like falling in love.” ~ Christopher Morley

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

I don’t read as much as I used to these days. Or, maybe I read more. It’s hard to tell. As an editor, I read all day at my job. But it’s a different type of reading. It’s more like a spot-the-difference puzzle, where I’m on the lookout for Briticisms and double punctuation marks. It’s not reading for pleasure, though it is pleasurable.

I am a book lover.

Much of my life is what it is because of books. My mother used to bribe me with books when I was a child. Books opened up a world to me. Reading became not just an activity but a refuge, and not just a refuge but a part of my identity. When I went away to camp, I took a sign language class. We were told to use the letter from our first name and the sign for an activity we enjoyed to create a unique name for ourselves. My name was an “S” opening a book.

Later, in high school, I dropped math class and took an extra English class in addition to my AP English class. My first or second semester of college, I took three English classes at the same time. It was wonderful! It felt so me. I felt like I was living out my true self. On spring break, I went to City Lights in San Francisco and dragged my best friend around the city, reading her Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s poems.

I absorbed myself in the pages of books for hours at a time, discovering not just kindred spirits and captivating lands but turns of phrases and how punctuation influenced a reading. When I learned to read, I also began to learn to write. Reading and writing were two sides of the same coin for me. One inspired the other. I am at my best, I feel my most authentic, when I am involved in both.

A few years ago, while working full time in book publishing and going to grad school full time for creative writing, I co-authored Burning Furiously Beautiful. It was a wild, intense time. I would wake up early before work and edit, a habit this non-morning person is not a natural at. I turned down plans with friends. I surrounded myself with books. And you know what? I miss it.

I miss the intensity of reading and writing and breathing words. I miss being assigned books that challenge me. I miss being exposed to new ideas. I miss the deadlines. I miss the workshops. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the solitude. The quiet nights. The passionate flurry of ideas.

I recently did a writing intensive with some friends. We tried to push out twenty pages a week. That’s more than I was required to do in grad school. It felt good. It wasn’t necessarily sustainable, but it got me back into the habit. As well, I’m doing the Goodreads reading challenge and trying to read a book a week. I’m woefully behind. Woefully. But it has gotten me back into the habit of reading for pleasure. I ask people to recommend books to me, so I still am being exposed to things I wouldn’t normally select for myself. Sometimes my friends read the same books; sometimes I read the book for my book club; sometimes I read the book for Bible study; and sometimes I get around to reading the books I excitedly bought but remained on my bookshelves. I read on the subway. I read in bed. I read in the bathtub. I read on NJ Transit.

And I’m about to read right now before bed! I’m finally getting around to reading Vivian Gornick‘s The Odd Woman and the City.

 

Writing Poetry in a Swedish Coffeehouse

23 Mar

fika

 

It’s nice to get out of the studio sometimes and write somewhere different. A change in perspective can kick start the creative juices and create renewed focus.

Coffeehouses seem ideal for writing poetry. There’s just something about the smell of coffee and the introspective atmosphere. Maybe it has something to do with the rich history of coffeehouse culture that dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Maybe it has something to do with what William S. Burroughs quipped:

“Kerouac opened a million coffee bars and sold a million pairs of Levis to both sexes.”

Or maybe it’s just that I’m Swedish, and we Swedes are known for our coffee habit.

In any event, I headed to the ever-expanding Swedish coffeehouse chain FIKA for a latte, a semla (the pastry pictures in the photograph), and some writing and editing. I hope to have a new poem to share with the world soon.

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Learning to Say “No,” Without Needing an Excuse

28 Oct
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The other evening, I was having dinner with my upstairs neighbor, E., a dear friend whom I don’t get to see as often as I’d like despite our close proximity. We were catching up on our lives, and I told her about a quasi-recent turn of events in which I’d told someone I wasn’t able to make the commitment they wanted from me and how I’d tried to explain to them why.
 
She stopped me mid-sentence.
 
“You don’t need to explain,” she said. At first, I thought she meant I didn’t need to explain to her. I know she often has a full calendar and as well understands how particular stages of life mean commitments are more difficult to make and keep. I knew she could relate to my experience. Then, I realized she meant that I didn’t need to explain myself to the other person. I didn’t need an excuse for my no. As she suggested, I didn’t have to justify my no.
 
I think this is true in many ways. It’s difficult to say no to others. And so often I say yes to the detriment of my own goals and dreams and time. I put other people’s wants and needs ahead of my own. I do believe there is value in this. I do think there are many times when we are called to go the extra mile for someone. There are times when it’s important to give back, to encourage, to help, to mentor, to volunteer our time and our talents. To set down our own desires in service of someone who really needs it. Still, there is a difference between someone’s real need and someone’s fleeting want. A difference between committing in a way that serves a greater good and getting locked into somethng that is so far removed from one’s own important needs that both parties end up suffering because of it. And there are times when saying no should come not with a justification but with thought and compassion. I know my friend would agree with me. She avidly devotes her free time to volunteer work, to spending time with those in need, to helping the disenfranchised. 
 
Perhaps the difference and the balance comes in not saying an automatic yes to things that hurt one’s own self in the long run.
 
Often because I am a writer and an editor, people come to me with essays, full-length manuscripts, resumes, and book proposals, asking for my advice, my edits, my time. I love helping people. I love hearing their stories. But I do this work for a living. It’s how I earn my income. There are people who pay me to do this. It’s how I pay for my electricity and how I pay for my subway fare and how I pay for my dinner. And unless it is a real need, say someone who has been out of work for a year and needs their resume reviewed so they can get a job to feed their hungry baby, it is unfair of me to not charge them when I would normally charge others. It’s unfair for my other clients. And it’s unfair for me, as, in a way, I am my own client. I am working on a new book. I spend hours sitting at the computer, typing, deleting, revising. I do this on top of my full-time career. I do this on top of my freelance opportunites. I do this on top of the free readings I give to support the biography I coauthored. I do this on top of smaller creative projects. I do this on top of the volunteer position I have leading a writing group. I do this when others are watching tv. When others are getting together with friends. I don’t get paid to write my book. Not yet. And so when someone asks me to look over something they’re working on, I instinctually want to say yes, I want to help them. But it takes time away from my own writing. It would mean saying no to paying freelance opportunities. Or, perhaps it would mean saying no to spending time with friends I haven’t seen in a long. I am honored that someone would want me to review their work, but I shouldn’t have to justify why I can’t help everyone for free.
 
I stubled upon Austin Kleon’s tumblr the day after meeting with E. He’s the author of Steal Like An Artist, and he posted about authors and editors saying no. I think I may steal E. B. White’s line:
 
“I must decline, for secret reasons.”
 

Gift Guide: 5 Unique Gifts for the Mad Ones

29 Nov

Happy Black Friday?! The writers associated with the Beat Generation generally avoided vapid commercialism, but if you have a friend, family member, or colleague who is into Beat literature — or if you’re looking to spoil yourself — you may want to bless them with a gift that values their literary interest this holiday season. But what do you get for the Beat reader who has a bookshelf full of dog-eared novels and biographies?

If your friends are “the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved” — you know, people who religiously read Jack Kerouac — they’ll appreciate these unique literary-inspired gifts.

Then, again, as Kerouac said: “Offer them what they secretly want and they of course immediately become panic-stricken.”

1. A cappuccino cup from Caffe Reggio.

CappuccinoCupMediumImage via Caffe Reggio

Caffe Reggio one of the coffeehouses the Beats hung out at in Greenwich Village.

2. Teavana Global Treasures Tea Gift Set.

teaImage via JC Gourmet Gifts

“‘Now you understand the Oriental passion for tea,'” said Japhy. “‘Remember that book I told you about; the first sip is joy, the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy.'” ~Jack Kerouac

3. Chronicle Books Bedside Dream Journal.

Bedside_Dream_JournalImage via Chronicle

“All human beings are also dream beings.” ~Jack Kerouac

4. On the Road key ring from Penguin.

pc_keyring_ontheroadImage via Penguin

Get your kicks on Route 66 with this On the Road key ring from Penguin.

5. Cinnamon Apple Pie Candle from SweetShoppeCandles.

pieImage via Etsy

“I ate apple pie and ice cream—it was getting better as I got deeper into Iowa, the pie bigger, the ice cream richer.” ~Jack Kerouac

You can get more ideas on my Gifts for the Mad Ones Pinterest page and from my blog post last year Gift Guide for the Beat Reader.

And you know what these all pair well with? You guessed it! A copy of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” which is available in paperback through Lulu and Amazon and in ebook through Lulu.

 

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Your Coffee Personality

24 Sep

How do you like your coffee? I read on Yahoo! On the Road that James Moore and Judi James published a book called The You Code: What Your Habits Say About You, which says that your coffee order may give insight into your personality.

This coffee-intertwined-with-one’s-personality hypothesis reminds me of Dean Bakopoulos’ My American Unhappiness. The novel’s protagonist, Zeke Pappas, “psychically” knows customers’ coffee orders at Starbucks. I put “psychically” in quotes because Zeke’s clairvoyance is in reality a parlor trick, educated guesses based on how the customers look and act. In other words, he can guess their coffee order based on their personality.

Moore and James’ The You Code suggests that your coffee order is about more than your taste buds. It’s about who you are deep down inside. For instance: Those who take their coffee black, according to the Yahoo article written by Vera H-C Chan, are “quiet and moody.”

I’m not too picky when it comes to how I take my coffee. When I first began drinking coffee in high school, I drank it black. I think I thought that made me a badass or something. I was far from a badass: the word “badass” makes me uncomfortable; I wouldn’t say it aloud. I actually really liked the taste of coffee, though. It wasn’t something I forced myself to drink to look cool. Coffee felt comforting. Maybe because I associate it with my mom. These days I often take my coffee with milk, putting the milk in first, then the coffee. But not always. Some days I still drink it black, no milk, no sugar. If I’m at Starbucks I usually order a latte—sometimes just a regular latte, but other times, as I consider ordering coffee out a treat, I’ll get a vanilla latte, pumpkin spice latte, or gingerbread latte. When the weather’s warm, I’ll switch to a Frappuccino. Some days, I just drink tea.

The article doesn’t say—though maybe the book does—what it means if you vary your coffee order. Perhaps multiple personality disorder? I’ve always been a bit of a chameleon, adapting to circumstances and refusing to be pigeonholed.

Or perhaps that’s just me being a writer.

Citing Ryoko Iwata’s research, Pooja Thakkar noted one’s profession is indicative of the type of coffee they order. Apparently, we writers like flavored coffee, which might be why I switch up my latte choices.

How do you take your coffee?

Writing Wednesday: There Will Be Twerking at Brooklyn Book Festival

4 Sep

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It may not be the VMAs, but the Brooklyn Book Festival isn’t your mother’s book club. The festival announced its schedule of events last week, and, yes, there will be twerking … or rather, the author of TwERK, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, will be on the panel Poetry in Performance. Here’s TwERK‘s overview, in case you aren’t familiar with it:

TWERK unveils an identity shaped by popular media and history, code switching and cultural inclusivity. The poems, songs, and myths in this long-awaited first book are as rooted in lyric as in innovation, in Black music as in macaronic satire. TWERK evokes paradox, humor, and vulnerability, and it offers myriad avenues fueled by language, idiom, and vernacular. This book asks only that we imagine America as it has always existed, an Americana beyond the English language.

“Here it is: a dope jam of dictions; a remixed, multicultural, polyphonic dance of vocabularies; a language of high stakes, hi-jinx, and hybridity. TWERK is subversive, vulnerable, and volatile. TwERK twists tongues. TwERK tweaks speech. Reading these amazing poems mostly makes me say, Wow! Open your ears to take this music in, open your mouth to say it out loud. And: Wow!”—Terrance Hayes

The Poetry in Performance panel will also feature Tyehimba Jess (leadbelly), Taylor Mali (The Last Time As We Are), and Quincy Troupe (ErranCities) and is moderated by Mary Gannon of the Academy of American Poets.

Performance has long been an essential part of poetry. The great ancient epics were told through oral storytelling or sung. It’s believed that Homer’s The Odyssey, for example, was brought to life by a professional performer known as a rhapsode, who improvised according to his audience.

Readings expose works to new audiences. They can make the words on a page feel more personal as the audience hears the intonation of the author’s voice and connects with him or her.

Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” stands on its own as a great poem, but hearing him read it aloud makes it that much more powerful.

It’s sometimes been said, though, that writers are their own worst readers. This is because writing and performing are two very different skill sets.

Some poets love open mics and performing their works, but not all do. Many introspective writers envisioned a life of sitting alone in a room with a cup of steaming hot coffee as their fingers flew over a typewriter; not a life shuttling from bookstore to coffeehouses to give readings to bored patrons. Yet, many authors today are told to give readings, appear on radio shows, and sell their work.

The blogs have been abuzz about Miley Cyrus’ twerking at the VMAs, and some, like Pakalert Press, have blamed her handlers, like her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, did a few years ago. We like to think of poetry performance as being on a higher plane, but, to play devil’s advocate, is it always so different? Isn’t performance just another form of marketing?

Is the proliferation of burlesque poetry an example of literary twerking? Are these female poets subverting expectations or unwittingly playing into them? Does slam improve one’s improvisation and literary techniques or has it simply become its own cliche style? Must a writer give into the agent/publicist/handler’s pressure to perform his or her work to succeed in today’s literary landscape?

 

More Writing Wednesday posts here.

 

 

 

 

Sweet Ride: Penguin Book Truck

30 May

Talk about a sweet ride! Look what I spotted at BookExpo America:

Penguin

That’s the Penguin Book Truck. Here’s Penguin’s press release on it:

Penguin Group (USA) Launches The Penguin Book Truck And Pushcart

NEW YORK, May 28, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Penguin Group (USA) announced today the launch of its first mobile bookstore: the Penguin Book Truck and the Penguin Book Pushcart.  Inspired by the long tradition of the library book mobile and the recent popularity of food trucks, this mobile bookstore is the perfect way to bring authors and books directly to readers.

The Penguin Book Truck and Penguin Book Pushcart will make their debut on May 30th at New York’s Javits Center during the Book Expo of America.  The Penguin Book Pushcart will be at the Delecorte Theater in New York City’s Central Park for performances at the 2013 season of Shakespeare in the Park.  The Penguin Book Truck and Pushcart will also visit the American Library Association Conference in Chicago, ” Tom Sawyer Day ” at the Mark Twain house in Hartford, CT and numerous other bookstores, festivals, library events and author signings throughout the year.  In October, in conjunction with the National Steinbeck Center’s kickoff of the 75th Anniversary of the publication of John Steinbeck ‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath, (published by Penguin) the Penguin Book Truck will travel West on Route 66 from Oklahoma to California, following the route of the fictional Joad Family and stopping at numerous museums, universities and historical sites along the way.

The Penguin Book Truck and Pushcart will stock books from all Penguin Group imprints and include a wide selection of titles by authors ranging from Patricia Cornwell to John Green , Elizabeth Gilbert to Khaled Hosseini , Nate Silver to Sylvia Day as well as Penguin Classics. The selection will also be customized for individual events.

Susan Petersen Kennedy , President of Penguin Group (USA), said: “We think the Penguin Book Truck and Pushcart will allow us to, directly and in partnership with bookstores, connect writers with readers and to spread the iconic Penguin brand in fun and exciting new ways. This will be a movable feast of today’s great books.”

Featuring Penguin’s iconic orange logo the Penguin Book Truck is 27 feet long with 96 linear feet of bookshelves on both sides. The truck is LED lit for nighttime events, has awnings to protect shoppers from the elements, and cafe tables and chairs where browsers can sit and authors can sign books.

The Penguin Book Pushcart is inspired by the design of the classic New York City hotdog cart.  It will be transported by the Penguin Book Truck to various locations including bookstores, parks, beaches, sidewalks in shopping districts, summer theaters, and green markets.

To learn more, view photos and follow the schedule of the Penguin Book Truck and Pushcart, you can visit them online at www.penguinbooktruck.com or follow them on twitter @PenguinBookTruck or on facebook at www.facebook.com/PenguinBookTruck.

About Penguin Group (USA)

Penguin Group (USA) Inc. is the U.S. member of the internationally renowned Penguin Group. Penguin Group (USA) is one of the leading U.S. adult and children’s trade book publishers, owning a wide range of imprints and trademarks, including Viking, G. P. Putnam ‘s Sons, The Penguin Press, Riverhead Books, Dutton, Penguin Books, Berkley Books , Gotham Books , Portfolio, New American Library, Plume, Tarcher, Philomel, Grosset & Dunlap, Puffin, and Frederick Warne , among others. The Penguin Group (www.penguin.com) is part of Pearson plc, the international media company.

Wish I could hitch a ride to Tom Sawyer Day and of course get my kicks on Route 66 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of John Steinbeck‘s novel!

Books and road tripping? Jack Kerouac would be proud. Hm… maybe they’ll let me take a cross-country trip on the Penguin Book Truck when Burning Furiously Beautiful comes out. An author can dream….

My first thought, though, when I heard about the Penguin Book Truck was that it reminded me of a book I had edited come to life:

Parnassus

Christopher Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels.

 

 

Happy 144th Birthday, Bertram Goodhue!

28 Apr

 

American architect Bertram Goodhue was born on this day in 1869.  I went Church Hopping to the Church of the Intercession in Washington Heights and St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Midtown,  two churches he co-designed in New York.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!  In 1896, Goodhue designed a typeface for Cheltenham Press.  Called Cheltenham, the typeface is the one used for the headline for The New York Times.

 

Writing Wednesday: Writing from a Brothel

6 Feb

Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m going to go live in a brothel now. Don’t worry — just as the landlord. William Faulkner told me to.

PS: Sorry for robbing you and drinking all your whiskey. I’m just trying to be a good writer.

xoxo.

 

Note: This is completely fictional. But, Faulkner’s 1956 interview poses an interesting question: What is the best type of job for a writer to hold to earn some income while working on a book?