Category Archives: Writing awards

BLOG HOP

I am so honored that I was asked to participate in this blog hop by Linda Crosfield, a poet whose work I admire greatly. Please see her blog to learn more about her and to read her wonderful poetry at Purple Mountain Poetry.

I met Linda in March in a writing group in La Manzanilla, Mexico—a beach community that most of us in the group visit for a month or two each year. It was a wonderful experience to meet so many excellent writers and I learned from every one. Hopefully, I’ll reconnect with some of them when I go back to the beach for a 2 month stint November-January of this year.

I would also like to introduce two excellent writers who are new acquaintances I’ve met through their blogs. Although their work presents opposite ends of the writing spectrum, they are similar in that neither takes the easy way out. I laud each of them because they both take such care in presenting original ideas and imagery. Please read their blogs to see what I mean.

Laura MacDonald has always dabbled in writing of many sorts. She is a very occasional contributor to the Bard Brawl blog (reviewing film adaptations of Shakespeare plays) and writes sketch comedy and wordy rants at Notes on a Napkin: What were they thinking? (though, much like herself, it was largely inactive throughout her pregnancy). She is currently channeling the ecstasy and delirium of motherhood into her poetry at Purple Toothed Grin and is pretty much making sleeplessness her bitch(/muse).

Robert Okaji lives in Texas with his wife and two dogs. He holds a degree in history but serves as a business officer in higher education and has at various times worked in a library, owned a bookstore and even sold cheese for a living. Much to his surprise and delight, three of his poems were featured in Boston Review’s National Poetry Month Celebration this past April. His work has also appeared in such publications as Clade Song, Prime Number Magazine, Middle Grey, Otoliths, Vayavya, Extract(s) and Lightning’d Press, among others. You may read his work at O at the Edges.

These are the questions I was asked to answer and that I hope Robert and Laura will each be answering on their own blogs.

What am I working on?

For the past two months, I’ve been posting a poem a day on my blog, following the prompts given by NaPoWriMo and WordPress Daily Post. I remember when I did NaPoWriMo last year that it seemed impossible that I’d make it through the month without quitting, but I loved it and missed it when it was over; so this year I decided to just keep going. I like having an excuse to make writing a priority each day and then wonder why I need an excuse. Sometimes I think I should be working on more serious work, but I love doing the blog and love writing the silly poems the most. Life is too short to do what you “think” you should do rather than what you want to do—especially at this stage of life.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Well, not many people have a daily blog that is 99 percent poetry, with most of it rhymed and metered. There is just something about having to write to a pattern that takes me to a different part of my brain. I never really know what the next line is going to be until I write it and I am continually surprised that it actually (for the most part) works out and comes to a conclusion. I never plan in advance. That takes away all the fun. Guess that is why I’ve never written (completed) a novel, although I’ve started a dozen or so.

Why do I write what I do?

I mainly write about things that I am still sorting out in my head. I discovered a long time ago that I don’t think unless I am writing or talking. A student once told me that my tongue sometimes got ahead of my brain and I realized that was true, and that wasn’t a bad thing (unless it was used for evil!) I try to slow down and think first when I’m mad, but just give my writing and my tongue free rein otherwise. It calls for understanding friends. (And kind of silly ones.) Why not just say what you think when you write? It’s safe because at this point, only you can see it lying there (actually, telling the truth there) on the page. You can always tone it down in the edit.

How does my writing practice work?

I love the computer, because it is the only way I can write fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. I write on the computer, always. (Well, almost always. At the beach, I carry a small notebook and pen in my pocket. I once tried a little digital recorder, but it doesn’t work for me. I don’t talk from the same part of the brain I write from.) I remember my first Brother electric typewriter that had a one-line memory. It was paradise, but really slowed me down as it was necessary to edit as I went. I love the freedom of the freight train mode of just writing as fast as possible without consciously thinking of what I am writing. The subconscious is a very interesting place to write from. It’s where we teach ourselves.

Find me online at grieflessons.wordpress.com or on Amazon here and here. (for some reason they can’t seem to get all my books in one location on Amazon.)

Notoriety

Notoriety

Remember Morrie Amsterdam, and Dick Van Dyke and Sally?
So clever and so erudite, and humorous and pally?
They had such fun as writers for a fictional TV show
(I can’t recall the name of it, but one of you will know.)

If that is what inspired the thought, I guess I’ll never know,
but I’ve always wished that I could be staff-writer for a show.
Such fun it would be, trading thoughts and quips and puns and jokes
and putting them into a show for entertaining folks.

Week after week to do this, would be a joy, I thought—
turning out those funny shows with plots so finely wrought.
But I had not a clue of how such jobs as this were got.
The route to such careers was something I was never taught.

I college I took every class in writing I could find.
I loved this pressure to use words to show what’s on my mind.
Sometimes the words came easy and sometimes they came hard.
I had a few successes, although no one called me bard.

In those days before the Internet, I don’t know how I came
to hear about these contests where we were asked to name
new products such as cereal and milk and a new shoe
and several other things as well, I just recall a few.

All-in-all, I think I entered six or more for fun.
Months later came the envelopes that said that I had won
first prize to name two products—and earned $25 for each.
Never had I expected such heights of fame to reach!

I took my best friends out to dine to celebrate my win
and we drank Golden Cadillacs (and probably sloe gin)
and wined and dined until we’d spent the sum of all the cash
I won by writing ad copy—a celebratory bash.

I know if I dug deep enough that surely I could find
the names of all those products in the corners of my mind.
“Vita-Man the Space Age Cowboy,” was one winning entry’s name.
His purpose to sell milk, although he never reached much fame.

This was the late sixties with skirts short or to the floor
and I recall one shoe line that I wrote a ditty for:
Mini-mums and Maxi-mums were names I thought were nice.
“A maximum of comfort for a minimum in price.”

This one was not a winner, but the reason I can quote it
is because they used it anyway–exactly as I wrote it.
The other one I won was for a cereal you’d know well;
I know you won’t believe me, so I’m not going to tell.

It became so famous that it’s still there on the shelf,
though I’m the only one who knows I named it all myself.
Still, this is where my fame resides—in stores from shore-to-shore
and that is how my name came to be writ in grocery lore!

So now my deepest secret’s out. The world will know my plight—
that advertising or TV is what I wished to write.
You’d think that watching “Mad Men” would cure me, wouldn’t you?
and it might, but for the glory of that cereal and that shoe!!!!

The Prompt: Back of the Queue—Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but never got around to starting (an activity, a hobby, or anything else, really)? Tell us about it — and tell us about what’s keeping you from doing it.

Vanity Depressed

Today, I received the below email from a well-known organization that reviews children’s books:

Dear Judy Dykstra-Brown,

Thank you for your interest in XXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Unfortunately, we can’t review books from vanity presses like CreateSpace*. For more of our submission guidelines, please see our website here: XXXXXXXXXXXXXX.

XXXXXXXXXX
Editorial Assistant
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

*note from Judy: CreateSpace is a company within Amazon that aids self-publishing authors in formatting,, printing and distributing their books.

My feelings about being labeled a “vanity press” author will be best expressed by displaying here the letter I wrote back to the assistant who had written the letter:

Dear XXXXXXXX,

I thank you for your prompt reply to my inquiry.

Although I certainly understand your reasons for not wanting to consider privately published material, I would like to bring one matter to your attention.

I have been writing for over 50 years. I have written and published three books, published nearly 40 articles in print and online magazines, won a national first prize for my poetry, edited a poetry journal and now coordinate a popular poetry series. I am in the process of having five more children’s books illustrated and working on a novel and two poetry anthologies. In my early career, I taught literature and writing for ten years and edited a teenage poetry anthology.

I mention these facts to explain why I feel it is an insult to have my decision to publish my own work called a “vanity”. Certainly, I am aware of the term, just as I am aware of other racial and physically derogatory terms that were once considered the norm but which in an enlightened age have come to be recognized as insulting and prejudicial.

May I ask your group to consider not using the term “vanity press” as a blanket term for self-published material?

I thank you for your efforts to reward excellent work in the field of children’s literature.

Best Regards,
Judy Dykstra-Brown

I would be most interested in other bloggers’ thoughts about this matter. Is blogging, also, considered just another “vanity” means of expression? I know that a great deal of status is attached to being published by a recognized publishing company, but do all writers who choose another path deserve to have their efforts considered as mere vanity? Is that our main goal?  Is that what we deserve to be labelled as?  Is it too much to ask to be labelled as what in truth we are—self-published?

Frida Kahlo had two gallery exhibitions in her entire lifetime. One of her paintings just sold for 5 million dollars!!! Were her artistic endeavors, in her lifetime, mere vanities? What of Van Gogh? Or Emily Dickinson? Only a few of Franz Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime. Johann Sebastian Bach was widely known as an organist, but his fame as a composer occurred after his death. Henry David Thoreau could not find a publisher for many of his works.

Certainly, I am no Emily Dickinson or Henry David Thoreau, and those who go through the rigors and humiliations of trying to find an agent and publisher certainly deserve plaudits for possessing determination as well as talent. I admit that I have neither the inclination nor the energy to jump through the hoops necessary to find a “legitimate” publisher. I just want to write, and I will not accept the label of “vanity” being attached to my writing.

Yes, I am proud of my efforts in doing all of the work myself that a publisher and editor normally do. Yes, I am proud of the fact that I have continued to write for 50 years with very little monetary recompense. But I don’t think my need to be heard is prompted by vanity any more than the determination of professionally published authors is.  We write because we need to write. It is a drive and what, in my case, gives meaning to my life. If that is vanity, then long live vanity! But please say it behind my back—not as an official representative of your guild or company or association or library or agency or board of merit.

Now I will climb down off my soapbox and get back to work on what I do for love, not vanity. If I’ve struck a chord, please add your voice to my protest by publishing your comments on my blog.