Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

Survey gets a read on e-readers

Thursday, April 5th, 2012
Survey gets a read on e-readers

A fifth of American adults say they have read an e-book in the past year. They read more frequently than their print-loving counterparts and they’re more likely than others to have bought rather than borrowed their most recent book.

Those are some of the findings of the Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Reading Habits Survey, which was released this week. As with most research from the Pew Center, the report goes into some detail. Here are the highlights:

  • A fifth of American adults have read an e-book in the past year and the number of e-book readers grew after a major increase in ownership of e-book reading devices and tablet computers during the holiday gift-giving season.
  • The average reader of e-books says she has read 24 books (the mean number) in the past 12 months, compared with an average of 15 books by a non-e-book consumer.
  • Some 30% of those who read e-content say they now spend more time reading, and owners of tablets and e-book readers particularly stand out as reading more now.
  • The prevalence of e-book reading is markedly growing, but printed books still dominate the world of book readers.
  • E-book reading happens across an array of devices, including smartphones.
  • In a head-to-head competition, people prefer e-books to printed books when they want speedy access and portability, but print wins out when people are reading to children and sharing books with others.
  • The availability of e-content is an issue to some.
  • The majority of book readers prefer to buy rather than borrow.
  • Those who read e-books are more likely to be under age 50, have some college education, and live in households earning more than $50,000.

Most of the findings in the Pew report come from a survey of 2,986 Americans ages 16 and older, conducted on November 16-December 21, 2011, that focused on people’s e-reading habits and preferences.

Six degrees of reading

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012
Six degrees of reading

Want to see books similar to the ones you’re reading? Head over to Yasiv, a site that uses Amazon data to create a flowchart of recommendations. Created by Andrei Kashcha, the site serves up a web of book covers that, when clicked, lead to information about those titles. There’s also a box on the left that lists the volumes by title.

Kashcha describes Yasiv as “a visual recommendation service that helps people to choose the right product from Amazon’s catalog.” In addition to books Yasiv can web other products carried by Amazon including video games, music and movies, although a search for broad clothing categories such as skirts and pants yields only a single image. Good for Grand Theft Auto. Not so good for Vera Bradley.

Yasiv recommendation web for 'House of Silk' by Anthony Horowitz

A tale of two writers

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
A tale of two writers

Two contemporary American authors recommend themselves for their use of the English language, mystery writer Will Thomas and poet Barbara Hamby. They have little in common. Their subject matter and style don’t match. Yet each handles the language with vigor and grace without sacrificing the forward motion often missing in literary works.

In the five novels in which he chronicles the adventures of Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn, Thomas writes at a studied rate that matches the pace of the Victorian England he portrays.  As narrator, Llewelyn describes action with a sharp ferocity, which is to be expected in mysteries and thrillers. It’s in the descriptions and transitions that the author shines, passages that in lesser hands would read as filler, or asides.

Here Llewelyn describes Irish beauty Maire O’Casey in Thomas’s second book in the series, To Kingdom Come: “With her hair pulled back loosely, she looked fresh out of one of the paintings by the fellow Renoir, who obviously had a passion for redheads. A jolt of electricity ran down my spine as if I were a tree trunk split in half.”

Poet Barbara Hamby abandons quiet passion for the full-throated kind. Here’s the beginning of her tour de force, “Mambo Cadillac,” from her book All-Night Lingo Tango:

Drive me to the edge in your Mambo Cadillac,
turn left at the graveyard and gas that baby, the black
night ringing with its holy roller scream. I’ll clock
you on the highway at three a.m., brother, amen, smack
the road as hard as we can, because I’m gonna crack
the world in two, make a hoodoo soup with chicken necks,
a gumbo with plutonium roux, a little snack
before the dirt-and-jalapeño stew that will shuck
the skin right off your slinky hips, Mr. I’m-not-stuck
in-a-middle-class-prison-with-someone-I-hate sack
of blues.

Remind you of the early short stories of T.C. Boyle? You can hear Garrison Keillor read “Mambo Cadillac” on The Writers Almanac and Hamby’s own reading for the Southeast Review in Tallahassee, available from the iTunes store.

If you like a little kick to your writing, you’ll want to ride with these two.

 

 

 

The Fog

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Slowly the fog,
Hunch-shouldered with a grey face,
Arms wide, advances,
Finger-tips touching the way
Past the dark houses
And dark gardens of roses.
Up the short street from the harbour,
Slowly the fog,
Seeking, seeking;
Arms wide, shoulders hunched,
Searching, searching,
Out through the streets to the fields,
Slowly the fog –
A blind man hunting the moon.

— F.R McCreary

The accidental publicist

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
The accidental publicist

First we had cavemen sitting around the fire telling stories. Then gossips and reporters. Then came chat and blogs and we cycled back to citizen journalists.

With the rise of social media we now have citizen publicists. Like volunteer journalist, they want to speak their mind. When they listen, they want to hear what their peers are saying, not just the company line. And through the really big amplifier called the Web they can have an outsized influence on our work.

As creatives, we want to reach them.

FireOur agency regularly counsels clients who want to join the social media wave but are afraid of getting swamped. There are too many networks and monitoring them is a time-sink. So for those clients who want to dip a toe into online communications, we’ve developed an approach called the Social Media Platform that allows organizations to engage their audiences as well as publish their ideas.

It’s a perfect fit for artists, photographers, writers and other creatives who can’t afford a publicist.

Here’s the strategy: Organizations need to monitor and influence what people are saying about their brands. So do creatives, with the added task of promoting their work far and wide. We social media because that’s where our future editors, clients and benefactors hang out. With a social media platform we can harness the power of peers, asking influentials who like our work to spread the word. The social media platform is no substitute for a full-blown marketing campaign that uses advertising, direct mail, media relations and microsites. But it offers creatives a turnkey operation that allows them to join, monitor and influence the online conversation.

quest-for-fire_lHere’s how it works: The platform is an integrated collection of social media networks and tools. It includes the major social and business networks—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, SlideShare and YouTube—but has room for numerous sites, forums and communities. At the heart is a white-label blog without branding for an independent look and feel. With the blog creatives can manage reputations, disseminate key messages and establish expertise in the market—this might apply more to non-fiction than fiction writers. Creatives who’ve already built a reputation can use the platform to solve issues before they become wide-spread problems.

There are six parts in the process of establishing a social media platform:

  1. Create. We start with a blog hosted on an independent site. Posts and comments radiate from the blog to the major social and business networks. The system notifies the blog administrator each time someone from the outside posts a comment. For your peace of mind, comments can be approved, edited or deleted before anyone on the ‘Net sees them. Tools: WordPress software, web host.
  2. Listen. Tapping into the online conversation about our brand is essential. Specialized search engines allow us to listen to what people are saying about our work. PR people call it reputation management. Tools: Social Mention, Google Alerts, Gmail to verify social network accounts.
  3. Contribute. Based on your expertise, you can contribute original text, slides, photos and video. Crowdsourcing allows you to obtain feedback on work. You can even use your network to float ideas for future projects. Tools: those listed above.
  4. Publicize. Blogs are like parties. You have to invite the right people to achieve critical mass. We start with the internal audience, your friends and business associates, and add editors, writers and bloggers in traditional and digital media. Tools: LinkedIn, Twitter.
  5. Monitor. The conversation is ongoing. The monitoring needs to be, too. But checking multiple sites dozens of times a day can get crazy. A dashboard can simplify the process: Tools: HootSuite, TweetDeck.
  6. Evaluate. You’re not a major corporation. The goal isn’t to fill spreadsheets and generate charts that dazzle but yield no useful information. We measure the volume and tone of comments but take everything with two grains salt. Tools: Twitrratr (Twitter rater), Twendz (Twitter trends), Tweet Level.

Does the system work? Yes. Our agency is seeing a good adoption rate from editors and bloggers as well as retweets of original material. Why does it work? Because it leverages three potent forces in our society: the shift toward digital media, people’s desire to hear recommendations from peers rather than companies and journalists’ need to discover leads rather than waiting for pitches.

That’s almost as good as telling stories around the campfire.

Seven questions for Barbara Aline Blanchard

Monday, January 25th, 2010
Seven questions for Barbara Aline Blanchard

The mellow mouth of my French horn
Is worth all the jade or silver
Or the superficial birthright
Of an old family of scholars
That I’d trade for Scottish whiskey
And the junk I learned in college.

That’s how Barbara Aline Blanchard begins the poem that begins her book, I Was a College Dropout: the French Horn Was My Mistress. In it she tackles issues like aging, jealousy and making jam in her grandmother’s kitchen. During her career she has overcome the challenges of shopping her work and supporting her children as a single mother. Here she revisits her childhood dream and shares the ups and downs of a long career in an interview with Crossroads.

Blanchard BabetteHow did you get your start as a writer?
As a child of four, my mother called me Babette, French for “little Barbara.” She nourished my inner poet: repeating and recording my thoughts, praising my creativity, shaping my self image. Poetry was the core of my being—I always planned to be a poet when I grew up. As a shy child, poetry and art were the way I expressed my feelings. Ideas could take shape in essays, but emotions needed a poem or a picture.

When I met my husband of 26 years, I was a high-school English teacher in New Jersey, also teaching creative writing at night and lecturing in the psychological and nutritional aspects of weight control. Before that, I had been a social caseworker and a parole officer in Newark, New Jersey. Divorced with two sons, I was driven by a desire to provide for them in the only way I knew how: writing. Poetry wasn’t paying the bills, even though I had written two books of verse, recorded my work and given poetry readings in Washington Square and at such venues as the Lone Star Café in New York City and the Playboy Club in Great Gorge, New Jersey.

For years, I wrote two pages of fiction each weekday and five pages each weekend day, for a total of 20 pages a week. If I had a school vacation or a snow day, I would write extra pages, which would allow me to take occasional breaks. For 13 years I rarely missed a day. Most of my writing took place after 10 p.m. when my children were in bed. I would write until I fell asleep at the typewriter (remember those?): the typewriter bell would bing and I’d wake up and go to bed.

Blanchard Arthur & BarbaraMy first novel was accepted for publication just before I met Arthur. The check was equivalent to several months’ salary—enormous to me at the time. A sister publishing company then asked me to write a romance novel. I had never even read one. I was guaranteed an advance if I delivered the manuscript by December: it was ready in six weeks. Christmas was good that year, though I was sleep deprived.

After those two minor successes, I took a sabbatical from my teaching job to write fulltime. In addition to my then-current novel, I wrote short stories, newspaper articles, and “fillers.” I tried to make writing a business. Obsessively, I wrote 10-12 hours a day. In the evening, I painted to relax. I had two children and one TV—which I rarely watched.

What challenges have you overcome?
Making a living as a writer was difficult, even though I was publishing. I needed cash flow. After taking a bartender’s course, I worked special events at the Holiday Inn, experiences that were memorable and lucrative. But when my health insurance was about to run out, I returned to teaching and Arthur and I moved in together.

Arthur took an executive position in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania while I freelanced. A magazine picked up my ghostwritten article. “I Was a College Dropout, the French Horn Was My Mistress,” a sestina, arguably my most technically-proficient poem, was published.

What makes you proud?
Undeterred by those who said a writers’ group wouldn’t last, I wrote an article for the local paper announcing the inaugural meeting of Pocono Writers. Twenty-six of us met one evening in a real estate office. Raising a glass of “literary sherry” (a reference to Poe’s The Cask of the Amontillado), I dared the group to prove the skeptics wrong. We began a tradition of monthly meetings around the fireplace at a local restaurant, reading, listening to and critiquing each other’s work. All “business” was printed and distributed in the newsletter, which I began and edited for several years until Arthur took a job in Massachusetts. I left my friends from Pocono Writers, which was and is the seed of the arts in the tristate area. The group continues to thrive.

Arthur is a scientist and a businessman. He convinced me that writing yet another novel without an advance or contract was just not logical. I bought a 640k Leading Edge word processor with an amber screen and began to teach myself. I landed a job as a consultant for Better Communications, the premier corporate writing-training company.

For seven years, I traveled throughout the United States, Canada and Bermuda, presenting workshops to, among others, Ford Motor Company, Sun Microsystems, the U.S. Department of Transportation and AT&T. I edited corporate documents; ghost wrote speeches; coached scientists, engineers and executives how to write more succinctly and give their documents visual impact. As the director of curriculum and instructor development, I was included in Who’s Who in of Global Business Leaders in 1996. Finally, I was earning a decent living as a writer. My hourly rate was 50 times what I had earned as a fiction writer, maybe more.

Meanwhile, my typewritten manuscripts were beginning to fade away and were impossible to scan. My first still unpublished novel, The Barefoot Years, which I had once submitted to Random House with high expectations, had fallen into the technology gap. “Despite obvious merits, we will not be making you an offer to publish,” the editor had written. Why not? Too short? No sex? Too introspective?

What was your breakthrough?
Hotel rooms were where the phone rarely rang: the perfect atmosphere for a writer. After a day in which I exceeded my word quota, I sat in the room and doodled. I sketched. I wrote poetry. There were no laptops, no cell phones. Business writing and creative writing collided in a cyberspace that had not yet been invented. The visual world took over my right brain.

Blanchard garden torso--Prize winning sculpture 2009 001 (2)The time came when the train to the future chugged to a stop: Babette had loved to paint, to mold clay and words into the shapes of clouds and butterflies. The journey back to my childhood destination has been arduous, like the overnight train from Beijing to Xian. I looked out the window at the early dawn and watched a fantasy landscape pass through a cotton-candy cloud that melted at the touch of my tongue.

Now I am walking through the dream I once had: traveling to exotic lands, attending theater and concerts, sculpting and painting. My studio is a place to play, to work, to imagine.

What is your latest work?
Blanchard Cover smA poet-songwriter friend, Virginia Wagner Galfo, spent three years editing my previously published poems. She persuaded me that these poems were my legacy. I Was a College Dropout: the French horn Was My Mistress was recently published. My sculpture by the same name is currently in a 3D show at the Venice Art Center, Florida.

What do you do for fun?
Almost everything I do is for fun! Recently, there was Brecht’s Galileo, Respighi’s Pines of Rome and Verdi’s La Traviata. The porcelain workshop with master potter Ki Woon Huh is hard work—today I spent four hours carving my piece. My hands hurt, I’m tired, but it was fun. Tomorrow I go to my twice-weekly workout at the Y: it’s fun when I finish.

What is your advice to fellow writers?
If you want to write for a living, write nonfiction. It’s helpful to have some credentials and knowledge about what to write. A major in science, for instance, would make it easier to publish in myriad journals and websites.

If you want to write poetry and/or fiction, get a day job. Take lots of notes, keep a journal and don’t worry about writing for a living. Write what comes from the cherry pit in your belly.