That Was The Week That Was: Week Seventeen (AND BEYOND)

Dear denizens of the Interwebs, it has been quite a week and beyond.  There was the end of the semester.  There was averaging, which required mathematics, which was, needless to say, complicated.  There was packing.  There were airports and airplanes and there were frozen yogurt stands placed perilously close to my gate.  There was a trip to Alabama to celebrate Mother’s Day.  There was a birthday, and it was mine.  There was an anniversary, and it was my parents’.  There were more airports and more airplanes and there were frozen yogurt stands placed even more perilously close to my gate.  There were cats and those cats had a lot to say about being left behind in Georgia.  Here are the photos to prove it.

Day 130: There will come a day when I shall enter a drug store without purchasing nail polish. Thankfully, I do not think that day shall come soon.

Day 131: One of my favorite things about birthdays? Birthday coupons. I mean, let’s face it: getting older sucks. After 21, there really isn’t a fun birthday, unless you have waited all of your life to be able to rent a car at 25. Birthday coupons take the sting away from un-fun birthdays. I’m a particular fan of Sephora’s birthday coupons, as they come with another one of my favorite things: free samples. Here, you see the glorious free perfume samples I got. I might have put them on all at once and then had to take a shower and change clothes immediately.

Day 132: There really isn’t a better sight on the day after you turn in all of your grades than this: Mariah Carey’s Glitter on the Style Network. This is the best terrible movie in existence, as it raises so many questions. Have the authors of this film ever communicated with another human being? Is this what the 80’s were really like? Why do so many characters dress like extras from Beetlejuice? It’s practically a Pandora’s box of important philosophical queries.

Day 133: First, let me make a confession: I was, at the time this photograph was taken, 31 years old. I am now 32 years old. Nevertheless, I still think the best cure for a bad day is a Happy Meal. This Happy Meal came with this weird singing star-shaped necklace thing, and with this piece of paper listing the “lyrics.” This raises the following points: 1., Nickelodeon, what have you become? 2., This is not a song. 3., If this is a song, it isn’t appropriate for children. 4., Whatever happened to Pinwheel and could you please put it back on the air or at least release it on DVD? I need to catch up with Herbert and LuLu.


Day 134: I found this robin’s egg in my parents’ backyard and it was too beautiful and perfect not to become my photo of the day.

Day 135: I can’t even talk about the cuteness here. This is my cousin’s little boy, and he and my god-daughter are my two favorite kids in the world. I asked him if I could take a picture of his shoes, and he posed like this and said, “They’re Chucks.” This proves there is hope in the world.

Day 136: Back to the birthday coupons! I went to Anthropologie to use my 15% off coupon, and nearly had a heart attack when I saw that their window display was full of JELLYFISH. There was even a JELLYFISH POEM involved. I might have swooned a little bit.

Day 137: Here’s the lovely group of women who sat by me in the Birmingham airport. They spent a lot of time talking with great excitement about their trip to Italy. And then they started talking with great excitement about … Fifty Shades of Grey. Which, apparently, they have all read. At LEAST six times. One of the teenagers in the group, at that point, asked, “What’s it about?” I quietly stood up and moved before I had to hear any more.

Day 138: Here’s why I love Georgia. I mean, of course I want boiled peanuts with my morning coffee! What else would I do?

Chantel Acevedo on Self-Publishing, Sparta, HTML Coding, Snake Women, Hades, Dumbledore, and Other Things Supremely Awesome

My last post was my 300th post on this blog — and what better way to celebrate this milestone than with my first-ever guest blog?  I’m absolutely thrilled to host a Q&A session with the lovely, talented, funny, and generally amazing Chantel Acevedo.  Chantel was kind enough to answer my questions about Song of the Red Cloak, her new book, even after I texted her repeatedly in all-caps telling her that she needed to publish the second book in the trilogy IMMEDIATELY IF NOT SOONER because I couldn’t handle waiting to find out what else happened to the characters.

Seriously, if you haven’t already, please do read the book.  I desperately need to geek out about it with someone.  And now is as good an opportunity as any, as Chantel is holding an incredible giveaway — Tweet and/or in response to her post about the brave not-actually-so-new-after-all world of self-pubishing, and not only could you win a copy of Song of the Red Cloak, you could win her clay figurines!  Actually, I kind of want those.  And by “kind of ” I mean “REALLY.”  So maybe you should enter the giveaway contest, but in my name.  Or just send them to me if you win them.  I mean, you can keep one, but I really want the rest.  I’ll send you pictures.

Shoot.  I promised myself I wouldn’t geek out too much, so let’s get to the main feature here:

EMMA: What inspired you to start this project?

CHANTEL: First of all, I generally don’t believe in inspiration.  Good ideas normally don’t come bursting from my head, all Athena-like.  They usually emerge only AFTER I’ve spent some time with the page, generating material.  But, I may have to give one up to inspiration this time.  The idea for SONG OF THE RED CLOAK came nearly fully formed one afternoon while talking with my husband.  I normally don’t know how a piece goes from beginning to end when I start, but with this one, I did.  Maybe it WAS a muse.  It’s a book about Ancient Greeks, after all.

EMMA: In your notes at the end of the book, you thank your daughter for asking you to tell her the story again and again.  Was storytelling part of your writing process?  How did it help you? (PS — here is where I was going to geek the eff out about oral tradition and storytelling in ancient Greece)

CHANTEL: So much so!  The first draft of the novel featured a frame narrative, where a singer tells Galen’s story.  Sort of like the way an epic poem would be shared, lyre and all.  But the frame, ultimately, was a bit too limiting, and hurt the urgency of the telling.  But I’ve always said I was a Classicist in a past life, and the patterns and permutations of those old stories–The Odyssey, Euripedes’ plays, etc–were an early kind of model for the novel.  Additionally, I’m a big fan of retellings of classical stories.  Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad is perfect.  Ursula K LeGuin’s Lavinia, which retells The Aeneid from Lavinia’s perspective is amazing.  I could go on.  Those current works were an inspiration, too.  I love the way the characters in those books are given new life, and the way that they answer the difficult questions that their ancient counterparts could not.  In that way, Galen, a helot, is given a voice that does not exist in any classical texts.  Slaves weren’t writing epic poems, as far as we know.

EMMA: How is writing a young adult book different from a “for-grown-ups” book, like Love and Ghost Letters?  How did you decided that the story was best for YA?

CHANTEL: I don’t like the idea that books for children are “dumbed down” in any way.  I told myself that I wouldn’t do that. That I’d respect the intelligence of the teens reading the book, an age group that I worked with for a long time, and which I found could be sometimes more perceptive than adults.  Besides, I wanted adults to enjoy the book, too.  The characters were teenagers from the start.  And the narrative voice wouldn’t be “looking back” in any way. It was immediate. Concerned with both epic things–the fate of Sparta, war, rebellion–and teenage angst-fuel–crushes, first kisses, etc.  It seemed the story was always YA because of that balance.

EMMA: The research process for this book must have been exhausting, in both the “reading everything about ancient Greece) sense and the “boy, I have read so much about ancient Greece that I am exhausted” sense.  Can you tell us a little about the research process?

CHANTEL: I started out by trying to “read everything.”  I discovered Paul Cartledge, who is THE scholar on Sparta, and read a few of his books.  I watched a few History Channel documentaries.  All the while, I was writing the novel.  I’d find, upon discovering a certain fact, that I’d have to go back and change a bunch of stuff. But I plowed forward anyway.  Research and composing happened, roughly, at the same time.  It did feel exhausting at times.  Particularly, in that moment towards the end, when you think you’re done, and a historian you know tells you the accurate weight of a spear, or that hammocks weren’t a Greek thing.  And so, you have to come back to the draft (again) and change every scene with a spear in it, and switch the word “hammock” to “cot” about a billion times.

EMMA: Though the research that went into your writing must have been daunting, reading the book is far from that!  The research is beautifully incorporated and works to push forward the well-constructed, exciting story.  In the end, I realized I’d not only been completely absorbed in reading the story but also that I’d learned so much about ancient Greece, from politics to military training to cultural customs to — and I was especially excited about this — their beliefs about MONSTERS.  How did you incorporate your research so seamless into the plot?

CHANTEL: Thanks.  That was tricky.  And it took a while to find the right rhythms.  There is so much a reader needs to know up front, that my biggest fear was making the book top-heavy.  I read a few historical YA books to try and figure out the balance that was necessary.  The trick is to couch the information in moments of high action.  So, we learn about the Crypteia through dialogue, instead of exposition, in a moment when the boys, Galen and Nikolas, are feeling especially tense.  You keep doing that. I don’t have a Dumbledore character–a know-it-all who serves to explain the unknown (though I love Dumbledore!), so when the reader needed to know something, I’d have to present it in the thick of a tense moment.  In a way, it softens the blow of having to learn something new. Spoonful of sugar and all that…

EMMA: How did you decided to self-publish?

CHANTEL: This was a difficult decision, for sure.  My agent and her team loved the book. We sent it out widely, confidently, to the big houses in New York.  Several editors championed the book, but marketing shut them down in each case.  Mainly, there seemed to be some concerns that the book was centered on a boy, since YA is so very girl-centric right now.  I wish I could share the emails from these editors.  An editor I admire a great deal called the book “fierce,” but she couldn’t get it past the rest of the publishing team.  There were SO MANY SIGHS over that one.  Ultimately, it was a no-go all around, despite the early support.  Had the response not been as good, or if it had been more uneven, I wouldn’t have self-pubbed the book.  But I think this was the right sort of book for this move.  It’s a departure for me.  It was highly edited and polished and vetted.  Perhaps it won’t earn the kind of money a publisher needs to justify an acquisition, but it’s still a good book, and, I think, deserves more than just a folder on my hard drive. 

Confession: there are other books I’ve written that I wouldn’t dream of self-publishing. They aren’t ready.  They may never be.  To self-publish, when all you’ve gotten is poor feedback, is a bad idea.  To self-publish out of a sense of privilege–as in, “I DESERVE this, New York be damned!”–is vain at best.  You’re delivering a product, and if it isn’t right, then you’re scamming your readers, who also happen to be customers.  $4.99 isn’t a lot to ask for an e-book, but it’s still $4.99.  If the book is bad, readers are going to feel ripped off.

EMMA: Can you talk a little about the process of putting together and marketing a self-published book?

CHANTEL: Putting it together can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be.  Kindle Direct Publishing lets you upload a Word document, and you’re done.  But without HTML coding, the thing will look pretty awful.  I’m lucky to be married to a computer genius, who did that work gladly, but otherwise, writers can expect to pay for that work.  Same goes for the cover.  I had mine professionally designed by a talented young artist named Shanna Lockwood.  The free covers that Amazon offers aren’t very attractive.  So, putting it together?  Can take four months, as it did for me, or two hours.  As for cost, Kindle Direct, Barnes & Noble’s Pub-it!, and Create-Space, are all free services.  Self-publishing has come a long way from the “vanity presses” of just a few years ago.

As for marketing, I’m figuring that out!  Social networking seems to be the best way for a self-published author to get the word out. Hell, traditionally published authors are relying on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, book bloggers and giveaways, too.  I remember when I published LOVE AND GHOST LETTERS with St. Martin’s Press, my editor told me that the publicity was up to me.  And it totally was.  So, I guess that self-published authors, and traditionally published ones (those who are sort of midlist and can’t depend on a lot of house support) are in the same marketing boat.

EMMA: I have to confess that I was a little mad at you at the end of the book.  Okay, a lot mad.  Why?  I wanted to read the next one IMMEDIATELY.  Can you give me even a teeny tiny sneak peek at what’s to come?  Ice cream with a cherry on top?

CHANTEL: All great Greek heroes have one thing in common–at some point, they end up in hell.  I mean that literally.  The Underworld is a destination for all them.  Hercules, Odysseus, Aeneid.  Later, Dante makes his famous trip through hell.  Even Harry Potter gets to visit the afterlife, though in his case, it’s a train station! So, you can expect Galen and his (surviving) friends to find their way to Hades.  Meanwhile, in Sparta, a different sort of rebellion is brewing…

Thank you, Chantel, for answering my questions, and especially for giving me a preview of what’s to come in the next book.  NOW PLEASE FINISH IT IMMEDIATELY IF NOT SOONER.  AND TELL ME WHAT HAPPENS AS YOU WRITE IT.  And gentle readers of this blog, I’m serious about wanting to talk about this book.  Comment when you read!

“Feel like letting my freak flag fly / Oh I feel like I owe it to someone”

After spending an hour and fifteen minutes making phone calls to increasingly hostile insurance representatives, I found myself inspired to write an entry about one of my favorite activities: fighting The Man.  How can one fight The Man, you may ask?  Well …

  1. Subscribe to a literary magazine. Due to increasing postal rates, the down-the-toilet-and-through-the-pipes economy, and the general difficulty of getting people to subscribe to literary magazines in the first place, the literary journal is in trouble.  A group of poetry-loving people on Facebook laid down a challenge to subscribe to at least one literary journal a month.  At first, I thought, as you may be thinking, that there’s no way I could afford this.  I then realized that if I didn’t buy a Diet Coke a day, I’d have the subscription fee, and as Diet Coke is really and truly a tool of The Man (who else could cause my shameful addiction?), the literary journal wins.  And, as a start, may I suggest a subscription to the Georgetown Review? Five dollars for more fun than you can imagine — and, though it won’t clean your soap scum, as Diet Coke will, it will not give you kidney stones, as Diet Coke does.
  2. Make your second subscription a subscription to OR. This Otis College of Art and Design journal is on the front lines of the battle against The Man.  In refreshing rebellion against traditional publishing, which so often considers not so much what is good as what is marketable, OR is a “literary tabloid” distributed nationally — and absolutely free of charge.  And the content?  The list of writers published, from Laura Moriarty to Martha Ronk to Ray DiPalma, speaks for itself.  Sign up for a free subscription and give The Man a kick in the pants.
  3. Start visiting online poetry mags. For years, people warned against the online poetry magazine: they’re not legitimate!  They’re just blogs!  They’ll do nothing for your CV!  Think of your CV, for God’s sake!  Think of your CV! However, back in 2005, Bob Creeley told our workshop class that the online poetry magazine was the way of the future — and, due to #1 and a host of other issues, I think he just might be right.  Many online journals are pretty amazing, to say the least, and, most importantly, they take risks which many print journals can’t, especially when it comes to composition.  Some of my favorites include Waccamaw, the Country Dog Review, DIAGRAM (though I continuously send the wonderful Mr. Monson poems, which are promptly rejected, much to my great sorrow), and 5_Trope.
  4. “Carry on!” Those of you who are as obsessed with Project Runway will recognize this as the right honorable Tim Gunn’s catch-phrase.  Those of you who are as obsessed with Project Runway as I am will also feel as torn to shreds as I do about Pro-Run‘s departure from the Bravo network, its subsequent existence in some terrible between-stations limbo, and the absolute disappointment that is Bravo’s erstwhile replacement, The Fashion Show (seriously.  The challenges on this show are not challenges.  I bet that next week they’ll have to make a pot holder from scraps).   Thankfully, Dustin Brookshire has found a way to fight The Man and fulfill my need for Pro-Run with his Project Verse.  I admit that I’m cheering on Emari DiGiogio, who just may be the next Austin Scarlett.
  5. Become Abnormally Attracted to Sin. Though this doesn’t technically fit under the category of “literary stuff,” I must give a type-out to Tori Amos, who has been fighting The Man since her 1988 debut with Y Kant Tori Read.  Her new album sucker-punches The Man, though the punches aren’t as low and dirty as the classic that’s gotten me through more break-ups than I care to mention, Boys for Pele.  Tori’s new sound is ambient, and low and creeping, and her voice is higher than usual.  Here’s where I must make an embarrassing admission: I have never been to a concert.  Ever.  Seriously.  I’d planned to make my first concert a Tori Amos concert — however, Tori Amos didn’t plan to come anywhere near Lexington on her tour.  I’m absolutely certain that The Man is somehow behind this, and shake my fist at the heavens and at him.

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

First of all, though the Georgetown Review‘s current poetry editor (yours truly) was not able to make it to the AWP conference due to a traumatic head injury (see Head Trauma Drama Llama below), she is happy to announce that the Georgetown Review itself did make an appearance!  My eternal gratitude goes out to the wonderful and fabulous Ms. Jessie Carty, who did a beautiful job setting up our table and spreading the word about the journal.  Thanks also to everyone who grabbed a copy and spread the word!  This is one of those moments during which I’m overcome with gratitude.  Truly, thanks to everyone (and, seriously, everyone should send Ms. Jessie Carty all manner of delicious baked goods, thank-you notes, positive vibes, and good wishes for being my guardian angel).

Secondly, two plugs!  The first has to do with the overwhelmingly awesome awesomeness of one Mr. Ross White, Official Poetry Superstar and founder of Bull City Press (which publishes amazing chapbooks, which you must buy, and the amazing journal Inch, to which you must subscribe.  Now, please.  You can follow the links.  I’ll wait.  [Cue elevator music.]  Thank you.  You have done a good thing).  Mr. Ross White has two beautiful poems in this issue of the New England Review, which were also featured on Poetry Daily, a sure sign that Mr. Ross White is soon going to be ruling the entire poetry world wearing a crown of awesomeness.

The second plug has to do with one of my greatest obsessions: Project Runway.  Frequent readers of this blog may remember how each upcoming season sends me into a frenzy of joyous anticipation.  I love Pro-Run so much that the phrases “make it work,” “that’s fierce,” “hot mess,” and “I mean, you tailored chiffon!” have entered my daily lexicon.  My dear friend R. and myself have often discussed how their needs to be a poetry version of Project Runway, complete with death-defying poetry challenges, fabulous judges who can determine whether or not one’s verse is “too Paris Hilton” or “just a Missoni knock-off,” and electrifyingly eccentric contestants.  It appears that the always-amazing Dustin Brookshire might just have been tapping our phones, as he’s asking for entrants to Project Verse, the poetry version of Project Runway.  Enter, or, at the very least, follow this competition as obsessively as yours truly follows the career of the fabulous Austin Scarlett (is it wrong that I have overturned my 28 year old decision not to have a wedding solely because Austin Scarlett now designs wedding dresses?).

More to come soon, including a plug of my own for The Sad Epistles, which made its debut at AWP, and an announcement about my incredibly exciting summer job (which will possibly come with embarassing photographs of The Young Emma wearing a Spam t-shirt).

“Won’t you please come to Chicago / Show your face!”

I know that many of you will be making the trek up to lovely and temperate Chicago, IL, for the AWP Conference, and I want to see you there!  I will be spending most of my time in the book fair, at the Georgetown Review‘s table.  We’ll have many an issue for sale — and a two-for-one-special! — as well as a super-exciting contest.  The theme of said contest will be revealed at the conference, but I can say this: it is going to be awesome.  So awesome.

I’ll also be part of an off-site reading, organized by the fabulous Larry O. Dean, upstairs at the Beat Kitchen on Thursday at 8 pm.  I’m excited to say that this reading will re-unite me with the utterly amazing and ridiculously talented Snežana Žabić, whom I haven’t seen since graduate school.  Be there or be … you know.  Square.

An Awesome Reading of Great Awesomeness

An Awesome Reading of Great Awesomeness