Friday surprise: Brighter Light and Summer Prompt

As many of our readers know, in the winter Andrea blogged a month-long poetry challenge for adult-and-kid teams called Brighter Light. Now, with the advent of the light we were longing for in the depths of winter, I thought we ought to have a follow up.

BrighterLightBadge2First: for our original challenge participants. Thank you so much to all the participants in the challenge.We still don’t have the “results” of the challenge judging, since for both health and technical reasons Andrea has had almost no internet access for months, but the TRUE results are an amazing collection of collaborative poems. I was just reading through the poems on the Notice Board and am so amazed by the breadth of approaches to the prompt and the quality of the poems. It’s a real privilege to know so many amazing writers (big and small!). In honor of your participation, I have posted, in the side bar, a code that you can put into your own blog or website which will display the Brighter Light Poet badge for this year! If you can’t use that code directly, you can also just copy at paste a copy of the badge to the left (it’s slightly lower quality but it’ll work fine). In addition, I’m asking that all challenge participants contact me with an address to which I can send Brighter Light stickers for the “kid” participants in the challenge. You can reach me through the “Contact Us” page on this blog. I really want to make sure that kids get a chance to show their pride in having a great thing (and in the cases of the really little ones, to have stickers to play with :-0 )

Maurice Prendergast - Revere Beach No. 2 - Google Art Project

Maurice Prendergast – Revere Beach No. 2 [PD-US]

Second: for all our writer friends, one last prompt! I thought we’d close out the challenge with one final prompt. I love this Prendergast painting (to the right)  because it shows so many people enjoying a summer day in so many different ways. Summer is experienced by each of us in different ways ~ by the difference in color and light, or scents, or heat, or location.

The prompt: Your summer day is like no one else’s; what is your summer day (or night)?

 Please post your poem or flash fiction response in the comments below, on your own blog or website, or (if you, like me, don’t post pieces publicly because that excludes later publication elsewhere) through our Contact Us form before July 4th (11:59 p.m. July 3rd U.S. Pacific Time). I’d especially appreciate young writers joining in. I’ll have a special badge available for all participants AND I’ll be picking 3 authors for a mini-interview and/or highlight on InOurBooks.com.

Thank you again to all the prior participants, and I look forward to reading all the Brighter Light Summer entries!

Writers on Wednesdays: Ellen Sussman

Today’s post introduces “Writers on Wednesdays” by guest blogger Margaret Young. For her first post, Margaret interviews multi-talented author and teacher Ellen Sussman. 

author_photo_2010_hi_resEllen Sussman is the author of three bestselling novels – The Paradise Guest House, French Lessons and On a Night Like This as well as the editor of two of my favorite anthologies, Dirty Words and Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave. She was the San Francisco Library Laureate in 2004 and 2009 and has received fellowships from many, many institutions including The Sewanee Writers Conference, The Napoule Art Foundation, Wesleyan Writers Conference and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She now teaches through Stanford Continuing Studies and in private classes. She has two daughters and lives with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Margaret Young is a freelance writer who works at being a novelist when she’s not teaching children music.  She lives in Palo Alto with her family and can be found Tweeting at @MargaretYWrites.

MY:  If you couldn’t be a writer, but you could be anything else and succeed, what would you be?

ES: I’d be a singer in a rock band.

MY: When did you know you wanted to be a novelist and why?

ES: I decided to become a writer when I was six. I remember climbing on to my brother’s bookshelves (he’s a year older), and copying the titles of his books. Then I’d make up a story to go with the title. One of my first short stories is called, “The Little Engine that Could.”

I loved reading and wanted to write stories like the ones I read. That never changed throughout the years. I’ve been singularly focused on this career choice. The only surprise was that I needed a day job. And luckily I have loved teaching writing as well.

MY: What has been your best moment as a writer?

ES: Publication of my first novel. I waited for so many years to hold my own novel in my hands. It’s a remarkable feeling. And I love that moment each time a new novel comes out.

MY: What’s been your worst or most disappointing?

ES: I’ve written two novels that didn’t sell. That’s hell. You spend a very long time creating characters and a story that you love. And after too many rejection letters, you have to tuck that novel away somewhere. It’s a killer.

MY: As well as being a best-selling novelist, you’re known as a top-notch writing teacher, if you could make your students follow one piece of advice what would it be?

ES: To find a writing schedule that works for you — and to stick with it! I most highly recommend daily writing, especially if you’re working on a novel.

paradiseMY: Your break-out novel French Lessons was set in Paris and your latest The Paradise Guest House is set in Bali. Do you feel like you’ve found yourself a niche as a novelist of Americans in exotic locations? If so, is this a good thing, a bad thing or both?

ES: I may not stick to that for all my novels but I’m liking it right now. I think that we learn so much about ourselves when we leave home. And I love using the exotic setting in a way that really matters to the story.

MY: Can you tell us about what you’re working on and what intrigues you about it?

ES: I’ve just finished a draft of a new novel. The working title is A Stranger at the Wedding and it takes place in the south of France. I’m exploring love again and family relationships. In this novel, there’s also real danger.

MY: One of the things you talk about in your classes is the importance of structuring the writing process. Would you describe a typical writing day for you?.

ES: I write for three hours every morning, five or six days a week. That’s sacred time for me — I never make a doctor’s appointment in the morning or meet someone for coffee. And if I’m writing a first draft of a novel, I’ll write 1,000 words a day.

Thanks to Ellen and Margaret for sharing this conversation with us (and Ellen, when your first album comes out, please let me know !) ~ Ina

Monday coffee: Announcements

Eisman-Semenowsky_Dame_mit_KaffeetasseOh, I do love Monday coffee. It’s a rare rainy summer day here in Northern California, and I’m drinking my coffee by the open window. Outside, some brave bird (I think it’s a phoebe) is singing away and inside, one of the cats (Spot, in case you were wondering) is making a concerted effort to sit on the keyboard (so far, I’m winning).

Today’s coffee is a note about upcoming events on InOurBooks.

  • Wednesday will bring us an exclusive interview with Ellen Sussman, acclaimed author of the  recently published The Paradise Guest House as well as two previous novels French Lessons and On a Night Like This, courtesy of our guest blogger and journalist, Margaret Young. Spread the word on this interview – Margaret asks the fun questions you’ve always wanted to ask your favorite author but hadn’t the nerve
  • Friday is going to bring us one last prompt for the Brighter Light challenge for our young entrants (and with the help of any of our young-at-heart readers who’d like to join in) as well as a special acknowledgement for the participants of the original challenge.
  • And we’ll be starting our new “indie publishing” feature, “A Day In The Life” as we move into July, for insight into working with small publishing houses and self-publishing options.

MilchschaumgesichtI’m so looking forward to these weeks ahead, and I hope you are too. But now, I’m going to sit down with this coffee, open a document, and write in the cool air of a perfect Monday morning.

Have a lovely day, everyone! ~ Ina

Summer submissions #1

Westpark 6809“Summertime…and the living is easy”

 –George Gershwin, from “Porgy and Bess”

Summertime is easy, isn’t it? Lemonade and salad for dinner and a yard sprinkler for entertainment. However, if you’re a writer of small things – essays, poems, stories – summer can be a harder time to submit work to be considered for publication*.

For U.S.-based writers, this is partly because many lit mags are published by colleges and universities, using  faculty and student love, labor, and time; as the institutions go quiescent in the summer, so do the lit. mags. But more generally, the publishing world is a bit becalmed, probably because the folks who manage all those innovative print and online venues finally get a chance to travel, fulfill family commitments, go to writing workshops & retreats, and even get some sleep.

The Fish Footman and the Frog Footman from "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" (1865)

The result is that it’s a little harder to find places to send stuff. If you’re on Duotrope, the familiar refrain, “We do not read submissions between June and September,” can get a little depressing. So to make the summer easier for those of us who are going into submission mode, I’m going to try to provide periodic updates on venues that are looking for summer submissions. And with that, today’s picks:

  • The Labletter: originally a project focusing on Oregon writers, they’ve broadened scope and publish poetry, prose, and art, on the edgy end but still accessible. Their next deadline for submissions is July 15th.
  • NANO Fiction: a great venue for flash fiction generally, their NANO Prize contest is open until September 1st, winners to be announced end of that month
  • WhiteKnucklePress: a project from team members at Right Hand Pointing, White Knuckle Press publishes e-chapbooks of prose poems. This month’s chapbook is terrific, and better yet, they are once again open to submissions as of June 1st.
  • And speaking of Right Hand Pointing: RHP is always looking for new poetry and they use a rolling-acceptance model. Currently, they’re reading for their non-themed August issue and a themed September issue on “Beds, Bedtime, Bedroom, Sleep.”
  • Writers Rising Up: if you’re a nature writer or an eco-focussed poet, this group publishes honest, non-sentimental work about the beauty of the natural world. They have contests year-round; they’ve just opened to submissions for next year’s WRUP calendar with a deadline of August 1st.

Okay, now I’ve got myself  all fired up – if you have any other venues that are looking for work over the summer, please come share it with the rest of the InOurBooks community – we really want to hear about places you love to read and share great work ~ Ina
Flowers in the Sun (3708636941)
*Andrea isn’t here to tell me if this is also the experience of novelists and other book-length writers. If you’re in that arena, do you find summers more difficult for submissions? Do agents tend to have their vacation emails on? Are publishers slower to read work over the summer?

Monday coffee: Creatives in their Summer Shoes

Childe Hassam - Summer Sunlight (Isles of Shoals) - Google Art ProjectWow, it’s summer. One minute I’m putting away New Years’ party hats, and the next minute Spring has one foot out the door and that foot’s in a sparkly, beach-worthy sandal. Posted word counts on a favorite writers’ groups are rising as if reaching for the sun; Facebook and Twitter are filled with exuberant verses about newly-fledged orange-throated finches, nights of stars and cicadas, and tip-toes rushing over hot sand.

Eudocimus Ruber Wading KL

InOurBooks is also jumping into summer. We’ve got a special event for the Brighter Light challenge participants. Wednesday connections are in the works; we’ll be posting info on places to send work over the summer. AND we’re fortunate enough to have some unbelievably fun interviews with writers including novelist and Stanford teacher Ellen Sussman and writer Joan Hamilton, courtesy of guest blogger Margaret Young (@MargaretYWrites on Twitter).

But most of all:  we’d love to hear about what you’re planning for your creative life this summer; we’d want to blog about what’s most on your summer-mind. Our poll is below, so put on your favorite summer shoes (even if that’s no shoes!) and let us know what’s upcoming for you! ~ ina

" 12 - ITALY - Ice Coffee 2

Longer days, brighter lights

La Rebeyrolle, (Creuse, Fr), sur le chemin de St.jacquesAbout six months ago, visitors to (and bloggers on) this blog were writing away at the Brighter Light poetry challenge designed and provided by my co-blogger, Andrea. It was a lot of fun, and I met some of the most amazing poets, adult and not-yet-adult, and read some incredible, creative, interesting work.

The challenge has been on my mind because of something my spouse pointed out to me recently.

My son, K.,  (and I) dropped out of the Brighter Light contest early on. He was going through some Stuff at school and didn’t have energy to think about words. But then, about a month ago,  I was putting away dishes and realized I was hearing his little voice from the livingroom. I came out of the kitchen, and there he was, reading a short poem by Michael Dickman to himself, out of a New Yorker that my husband had left on the table. It was kind of…eerie.

The light over the lighthouse (5001033535)When K. was done, he read it aloud again, asked me about some of the phrases, and then went into a rather thoughtful silence. 

Apparently, this was the start of something.Each day, K’s taken a little time to read poems out loud to me (or my spouse) or (mostly) to himself. The floor is littered with random books of poetry, opened and upside down. He’ll recite some Jack Prelutsky or Spike Milligan (he’s memorized one about a baboon that sends him into fits of giggles). He’s grabbed me a couple of times and asked me to type “a poem I’m about to make up,” and the poems are (trying to put on my objective, non-mom, hat) interesting. This is a part of a recent one:

your colors melt and mix
until they make one red stripe
across the long screen

I didn’t have a theory about why this was happening until my husband looked up from his computer and said, appropos of nothing, that it usually takes K. about six months to really process anything he’s been thinking about (which drives his teachers absolutely bats). And then he asked me what K and I had been doing about six months ago.

Ah ha.

Maybe the challenge did illuminate the world of words for K.  I realized I got a lot out of the challenge too, as I get a lot out of all of the challenges I read and/or enter. I get to ingest a lot of amazing poetry. I see new ways of looking at a single picture. I am reminded that I like a much wider variety of poetry than I usually read. In Andrea’s challenge, I got a very visceral reminder of why artistic coaches tell you to “reach for your inner child:” there wasn’t a young person involved who didn’t bring his or her own light to the writing.

Gdansk-RobertStadlerSo, friendly readers, now I’m curious: what do you get out of challenges and contests that go beyond the obvious? If you and a young person in your life participated in the Brighter Light challenge, what came out of it for your young person ? if you are a young person who was involved in the challenge, what did you find out about yourself, about the adults in your life, about writing, and poetry, and life?