Reposting The Process

With the publication of Death In Common on the horizon, I thought this would be a good time to repost an entry I wrote back in NOvember dealing with the process I went through of getting accepted.

When Rich first announced his anthology over on SL, I was intrigued, and intimidated. Intrigued, because I loved the concept of poems based on a serial killer, but intimidated because I don’t know jack about writing poems. I did have an idea of what I wanted to write. When Rich kind of prodded me in an email to submit something, I thought hard about whether I should or not.

My idea was simply a reinterpretation of an unpublished story I’d written many years ago. It concerned a guy who finds a homeless man shading himself by the side of a building. He offers help and gets no response. Somewhat discouraged he drops some money and a business card in the man’s hat and walks away, never realizing he was talking to a corpse. It was about lost opportunities, wasting life, and offering help when it’s too little, too late. The finished poem, now, in no way resembles that, however. As I wrote my first draft, a prose poem, it didn’t exactly fit in with the the theme. I’m going to be careful and not give anything away in what the content is, though I can describe the process I went through.

The first thing I did was read some prose poems that Rich sent me some link to, in order to get an idea of how to frame my story. What I did, ended up being a 750 word flash fiction piece. What that did was give me the story I wanted to tell (though even that changed as well). Rich advised me to make some cuts, add some actual poetic content and revise.

The next revision was closer to a prose poem, but still not quite there. Rich asked me to make each sentence its own paragraph. I did this sent it to him and he said, “Now pick 20 sentences that are the most important.”

I groaned. This was really the hardest step for me. It was like him telling me, “Pick which organs are the most important in order for you to live.” What I tried first was printing out the whole piece, cuting each sentence into a strip, (there were 45 or so) placing them in a bag and picking 20 at random.  That worked about as well as you could expect. It may have been successful for William Burroughs, but Burroughs, I’m not. I went through each line as if it were someone else’s piece I was editing and not my own. It was the only way I could make this work. I spent a few days on this, but finally decided on the ones I wanted to keep. Gone was my first line, “A year after his birth, Gary’s Mother stuck her head in an oven and turned on the gas.”  I liked the line, and still do, but it was about paring down; taking a block of clay and sculpting it into something recognizable as poetry. I sent the results to Rich and sat on pins and needles as I awaited his notes.

And I got them. He restructed the result into stanza form, suggested some deletions, asked for some additions and more structure. This was the equivalent to me of jumping out of a plane with no parachute. It didn’t help that work was asking for mandatory OT, my nephew was with me for a few days, and I was stuck on what to do.

Oh, and did I mention, I also needed to shape it into something that fit into the structure of the collection? At this point, the connection to the commonality of the poems was tenuous at best. It amounted to an almost complete rewrite.

Line by line, I went through it all. Keeping more than I thought, deleting lines that were more plot than descriptive, adding more, changing words, removing small words. By the time I was finished, I had no clue whether what I’d written was even readable, let alone publishable.

And here is where the tide began to turn. The light at the end of the tunnel, if I can beat a dead horse phrase. There were many changes to make, but not major ones. I still had to add an element that really tied the piece to the rest of the collection, and I did that based on one word I’d taken out in an earlier revision. The changes in the next couple of passes were clean up, refining the piece to its final state.

It’s a piece I’m incredibly proud of. Not because it’s my first sale, but it was something I never thought I’d been capable of writing. I drew on resources and an inner determination I never thought I possessed.

Is it any good? It’s not for me to decide. As we know a lot of crap gets published, but given the pedigree of writers, the excellence of the editor, and the track record of the publisher, I’d like to think it’s an okay piece.

Once the collection has come out and people have had a chance to read it, I’ll put up the first draft, so you can judge how well I’ve done.

Death in Common Blurb

Rich posted a blurb about Death In Common, from T.M. Wright over on SL.

Death in Common: Poems from Unlikely Victims brings unusual depth, creativity and chillingly potent imagery to what is often referred to as “horror poetry.” The poems within this unique volume are not simply horrific, they’re genuinely lyrical and wonderfully human stories as well, and that’s not easily accomplished by any poet, liviing, dead, or somewhere in between.

–T.M. Wright, author of “Bone Soup” (Cemetery Dance, 2009) and “Blue Canoe,” a novel (PS Publications, 2009).

“You’ve started your literary career well; be pleased.”

So says, T.M. Wright after reading my poem, Childhood’s End. He was also kind enough to say, “I really like it–great imagery throughout and it ends beautifully.  Congratulations!”

This perhaps, is the greatest compliment I’ve ever received in my life. In spite of having positive reviews for some self produced plays in the early 90’s in Berkeley, this means the most. T.M. is a writer I’ve been reading since the early 80’s. His novels, Strange Seed and Manhattan Ghost Story, are two of my favorite books, and he’s always been one of my favorite writers. 

For a full roster of everyone involved I suggest you go over to the Death in Common myspace page. This is going to be a great collection, with Bran Stoker winners, and heavy hitters contributing some of the best horror poetry yet to be seen.

First sale

I can now announce, that I’ve made my first sale, a poem, to be included in Rich Ristow’s collection, Death in Common. 

What started one warm AZ night on Oct. 14th, and included 11 revisions, numerous emails, and a small ulcer has culminated in a sale. I spent a lot of time writing this one, and kept on trucking even when I wanted to give up.  Were it not for Rich’s comments, care and patience, it would have been impossible to finish.  I want to thank him for giving me the chance, even though I never thought I had one.  Poetry isn’t my thing. I appreciate it, even more now, but this was a bitch to write. Over the next couple of days I’m going to detail the process I went through to get Misplace Chldhood publishable.

Make no mistake. Rich is a friend, but I had no guarantees it would be accepted. fortunately, I’ve worked with friends in the past and had my work radically changed or rejected, so it would have been okay. 

But I got accepted. So now Nikita, I AM a published writer, with HWA rates to boot! It pays to work hard and have a bit of talent.

A hell of an editor doesn’t hurt either.

Calling All Poets

My friend Rich, has a post over on SL, seeking submissions for a poetry anthology he’s working on. Anyone interested, take a look here, Yes, he’s a friend, and I’ve submitted something, but I’d post about it anyway, because Rich, is a good guy, and I love the idea for this anthology.

Plus, if you read the whole thread, you’ll see me and Jerrod having some fun. Now about those mimes…