Tuesday, July 21, 2015

O'Connor Meets Chesterton

My Presentation on Flannery O'Connor
at the Springfield Chesterton Society

Earlier this month, I was privileged to be a guest speaker at the G.K. Chesterton Society of Springfield, MA, presenting on one of my all-time favorite authors, Flannery O'Connor. If you're wondering what a "Chesterton Society" is, in this case it's a men's discussion group dedicated to the late British writer G.K. Chesterton, which meets monthly to discuss topics in the spirit of one of the finest wits and most brilliant minds of the 20th century. There are many such groups around the country, although this local chapter happens to be founded by my father and is the oldest, continuing Chesterton Society in Massachusetts.

Although it's a men's group, once in awhile the society will hold a Lady's Night, which is led by a woman upon invitation and is open to all female acquaintances. I was honored and nervous to be given the opportunity to speak at this month's meeting about O'Connor, a Southern Gothic writer whose unsettling fiction dared to look boldly into the ugly parts of human nature. Though Chesterton died ten years shy of O'Connor's first publication, and though the two hailed from nations on opposing sides of the Atlantic, in much of their writings they shared common ground: fierce wit, philosophical prowess, a vivid love for Catholicism, and a strong distaste for bad art. Therefore, I couldn't think of a better setting to present on O'Connors life, philosophy, and ingenious works.

You can view my presentation in the video above.* Before you watch, a few disclaimers:

1) The nature of these meetings, particularly since they're run by my father and include several long-time friends, is informal. Therefore, chips will be eaten, cigars will be smoked, and overenthusiastic laughter at inside jokes will ensue.

2) I suffer from an unfortunate condition known as Perpetual Child's Face and Voice Syndrome. This condition becomes all the more manifest when I appear on camera, along with my nervous addiction to phrases like "um" and "y'know." I apologize for painful viewing.

3) You may be confused at moments in the video when it looks like I'm speaking without opening my mouth. Don't be. That's my twin sister's voice coming from off-camera.

4) I think most people will be fine with this given the subject matter of the talk, but just in case: an obscenity is spoken briefly to name the title of a short story by O'Connor, "The Artificial Nigger." Please note that this word is used strictly within a literary context, and is not intended to be derogatory.

Enjoy and share away, fellow lit geeks! Grace and peace to you.

*Also available on the Springfield Chesterton Society's gallery page and YouTube channel.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Publication Alert: Thin Air Magazine, Writers Get Together, and more to come!

Dear Reader,

The world never stops spinning, does it? It seemed as though the minute I returned home from the lull of a week-long vacation, I was stepping into a whirlwind of business, inconveniences, and surprises.
View of the sunset from my family's vacation stay
First, on Tuesday I received word that my story, "This Is How We Mourn," has been accepted for publication at a new magazine that's set to debut in August. I presented this story back in March at the Sigma Tau Delta Convention in Albuquerque, NM, and have received a great deal of positive feedback on it from fellow writers, so I'm excited that it will be finally appearing in published form. More details on that as it develops.

Second, by chance I discovered a nasty glitch in my e-mails that was causing multiple correspondences to skip my inbox, leaving me to wade through a mess of unread e-mails dating from up to six weeks ago. (Remember last month's publication that I didn't know about? Yep, this is what happened to that notice.) In the midst of that clean-up, I found several rejections from venues I'd been waiting to hear from, as well as -- more importantly -- two acceptance letters.

The first accepted piece has already been released at Thin Air Magazine, which is a part-online, part-print publication by Northern Arizona University's MFA Program. This prose piece is called "Night Noise," which you can view here. The second accepted piece is my poem "Lack of Redemption." That will be appearing at Yellow Chair Review in August.

Third, as of tonight, my blog as been featured yet again on Writers Get Together, a writers' networking website that has been gracious enough to publish three of my blog articles so far. You can read my article "Blue Writings," detailing the terrible dry-spell I went through some months back, on WGT's site here. (Be sure to look for my past articles on there if you haven't read them yet!)

Phew! Four publication announcements in one week. It's overwhelming. I recently glanced at my resume and realized that I've managed to land at least one publication every month since January -- and I still have stuff scheduled through to September! I continue to feel like such a beginner in this field, and yet it's humbling to see the recognition I've received in the past few months. I don't feel worthy of it at all -- there are still so many areas I need to grow in my writing -- but I am grateful knowing that so many of these small successes have been because of the constant support of my family, friends, readers, proof-readers, and fellow-writers. Without you all, I have no one to write for. I wish I could thank you all by name. But for now, please know that, even if you're an internet-reader I've never met, or a friend that only peruses my blog because I guilted you into it (ha), every tiny thing you do for me is appreciated. Thank you. With all my heart, thank you.
Grace and peace to you all.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Publication Alert: Right Hand Pointing

Dear Reader,

A few weeks ago I made an announcement on social media that, in order to make the most quality time for other creative writing projects, I am reducing the posts on this blog to the first and last Friday each month. While on a normal basis this would not include publication alerts (which would be more frequent, I hope), forgive me if this week I forgo one of my normal rants and keep it strictly business . . .
. . . Mainly because, at the moment, I am away from business. I'm writing to you from my family's vacation spot at an enigmatic beach, where I'm enjoying some of nature's most beautiful and inspirational phenomenons: ocean, sunsets, and ice-cream (okay, the latter's not nature, but it's still beautiful). However, I couldn't wait to get home before telling you about my most recent publication. This week, Right Hand Pointing published their 88th issue, with my poem "Waking Moment" appearing on the first page of contributed works. For those unfamiliar with Right Hand Pointing, it is an eleven-year-old, monthly online magazine featuring very short works of poetry (sixteen lines or less) and fiction (500 words or less). In addition to publishing a nice array of emerging writers, its focus on flash and short-short genres makes it a solid read for lessons in momentism (my own word, and by golly I'm going to get it into a glossary of literary terms someday). Well worth a read.

You can read my poem here.

About the work: This has always been a favorite little poem of mine, something short and sweet to convey how hopelessly beautiful a tiny moment can be. Language, science, analysis -- even though they make up the world around us, they are often useless in showing how or why a brief, insignificant movement in the everyday can have an almost magical and spiritual effect on us. I hope and pray that my writing will always contain a tone of being in love with moments.

The poem you see printed at RHP is not, however, the original version I created for my Writing Poetry class last year. It's actually (gasp!) a revision. Shocking, I know, given my notorious dislike of the revision process and preference for one-and-done perfectionism. When I submitted "Waking Moment" to RHP, I received a response from the editors expressing an interest in it, but asking if I'd be willing to revise the final stanza for something stronger. As a new and naive writer, receiving a request like that can evoke a mix of emotions. It's easy to have a gut reaction of feeling insulted or misunderstood, and to brush the response off as an example of someone who just doesn't "get" you. But I learned quickly (with help from more experienced writer friends) that a "rejection" of this kind is extremely good. It means the editor cares enough about your work to communicate with you about its existing issues -- issues that editors from other magazines probably noticed but only responded to with a flat-out, no-second-chance rejection. It saves you the time of submitting to countless other venues and getting only silent rejections because the editors were all seeing the same flaws that you had missed, and not bothering to tell you about them. Rather than saying, "We don't like your work, you need to change it for us," a request for revision or additional work says, "We love your work so much that we're taking the time to tell you how to get it published here." (There's a good article floating around the internet called "Submit Like A Man." Read it, love it, and for Lord's sake, follow its advice.)

I hemmed and hawed a bit, got feedback from a few writer friends, and finally decided to give the revision a go -- which proved rather challenging. Granted, the revision being asked of me was minor, but it was difficult too, considering that the last stanza is the entire crux of the poem. I was afraid I'd have to butcher my poor little poem, sacrificing its original intent for something else; but I was fortunate enough that, one morning, something finally came to me ("in a flash," as Marcel Dupré would say). The revision meant keeping the original goal intact, but changing the mechanics of its delivery: I had to reflect on what the editors might have seen wrong with my poem and why; then, instead of altering the message, I had to ask myself how to reword it in a way they could grasp.

Lessons learned from the experience: 1) Don't be afraid of being asked to revise -- it's not an insult, it's a huge compliment and a door to get in; 2) Don't let a revision mean an overhaul of your work (unless it's necessary) for someone else, but make it an opportunity to help readers recognize and love your intentions better.

Hope you are all enjoying the summer. Grace and peace to you.