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Write a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem made up, typically, of three stanzas of four lines, and a fourth of two lines, or a couplet. Use the following rhyme scheme: In each of the first three stanzas, rhyme the first and third lines and the second and fourth lines (a, b, a, b, c, d, c, d, e, f, e, f); and rhyme the lines of the couplet (g, g). For a traditional example, see Shakespeare's "From you have I been absent in the spring...." For a contemporary example, see Denis Johnson's "Heat."

The National Book Foundation (NBF) has begun to roll out its series of conversations about the poetry volumes that have won the National Book Award in the genre over the past sixty-one years. Fifty-one books (the prize was not awarded from 1984 to 1990, which accounts for the discrepancy), from William Carlos Williams's Paterson: Book Three and Selected Poems (New Directions, 1950) to Terrance Hayes's Lighthead (Penguin, 2010), will be covered in short essays by contemporary emerging poets such as Ross Gay, John Murillo, and Evie Shockley.

The project is part of the NBF's Lineage program, celebrating the poetry prize's all-stars since 1950 (two years ago, the NBF published a similar series of essays highlighting its fiction winners). The retrospective, says NBF director of programs Leslie Shipman, is designed "to generate a discussion [about] how American poetry has evolved over the past sixty years and it's current vitality in the cultural landscape."

The foundation is also holding a related panel and poetry reading next Thursday and Friday in New York City. Later this spring the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis will host a Lineage presentation, and one additional event in another city is also in the works.

To read the daily poetry book posts, which include biographical information, excerpts of poems, links, and contextual nuggets, visit the NBF's Web site.

In the video below, Kathy Bates reads 1952 winner Marianne Moore's "Poetry." The NBF essay on Moore's Collected Poems was written by poet Lee Felice Pinkas.

We asked Ryan Fischer-Harbage of The Fischer-Harbage Agency, Inc., whose client list includes Ethan Brown, Courtney Eldridge, Bill Eppridge, Aliya King, Amy Sullivan, and Jackson Taylor, to fill us in on his book proposal writing class at Mediabistro.com.

Do most of your Mediabistro students have a book they’ve started when they sign up for your class?
Most people have an idea, and in addition to the workshop, I also teach an advanced class where people can only sign up if they have a rough idea of a book, or several ideas. I think these classes are most effective for people who are already into something.

Have most of your students received their MFA?
The thing I like about Mediabistro is that they attract working writers so it’s a wide mix of people. Right now I have a class of ten. Three of them have their MFAs and some of them are professionals in other things—there’s even a trainer, and then the others are journalists.

What does a book proposal look like?
So here’s the deal. When you’re selling a nonfiction book you don’t have to write the whole book. You only have to write a proposal. A TV writer writes a spec script, a musician puts together a demo tape, and whether you’re writing a memoir or a health and wellness title or narrative nonfiction, you write a book proposal. Generally speaking, a proposal is forty-five to seventy-five pages.

What is the standard template for a book proposal?
There are five or six components, perhaps the most important of which is the sample material from the book. In eight weeks, if my students do their homework, which probably 75 percent of the time they do, people have a working first draft of their proposal by the end of the course.

What is the success rate for your students getting their book sold?
It’s my experience that in every workshop, whether it’s a regular nonfiction book proposal workshop or an advanced workshop, at least one student from every group sells their book within ninety days of the class. And there are more that come later, but I usually hear about the ones right after the class.

I’m guessing that because you’re an agent you know what other agents are looking for?
I don’t necessarily tell people where to pitch their proposals. I’m more concerned with the actual craft than with the business side of things.

What are your top five tips when pitching a book proposal?
One: The big publishers won’t consider a proposal unless it’s from an agent. Obviously some of the small presses and university presses don’t care, but I always advise people to start at the top. You know, if you have the choice of Random House paying you real money for your book and getting copies in every store in the country, or a university press paying you nothing and getting your book on Amazon and a couple local bookstores, I think, Why not start at the top? Writers should be paid.

Two: Writers need to know to whom they’re pitching, which means having a real familiarity with what an agent does. Writers send agents a query letter, which is a one-page summary of their book, and it also includes a brief bio of the writer. I think this letter should be sent to agents that the writer’s research suggests would be interested in their book. For example, when I get a query letter that says, “Dear Agent,” and I see that fifty or seventy-five of my colleagues are cc’d on the e-mail, I just delete it. I don’t even read it. The writer put no time into sending it to me, and I feel no obligation into putting time into reading it. When someone sends me a letter that shows the writer is familiar with my work, I can’t just delete it because I feel and see that they’ve put a little bit of time into sending it to me, and I owe them time to read it.

Three: People often send their query letters out before their proposal is finished, and if I write back and say, “Great, I’d love to read it,” and I get a response like, “Oh, well, it’s going to be ready in six months, and I’ll send it to you,” I feel annoyed. I could get hit by a bus in the next six months. I think it’s much more professional to have the proposal finished and when someone says they’d like to read it—boom, you send it.

Four: The mistake I see most frequently is people don’t put enough time into their work. They rush things and they don’t engage in a meaningful editorial process of careful revision. Agents are a little more forgiving than editors. Agents will look at something more than once. We’re used to seeing things that are less developed, and a good agent will help develop a writer a bit, but the work has got to be done. We don’t talk about competition in this business, but it’s extremely competitive.

Five: Work finds its place. The market forces work pretty well—not perfectly, and certainly a lot of great work goes undiscovered, but when someone really focuses on his or her craft and does the footwork, whatever’s supposed to happen generally does.

Fischer-Harbage accepts queries via e-mail: ryan@fischerharbage.com. Based on a high volume of submissions, his only request is patience.

Dzanc Books has announced the winner of its 2010 short story collection competition. Jason Ockert, who teaches at Coastal Carolina University outside Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, received the one-thousand-dollar prize, and his second collection, Neighbors of Nothing, will be published in October 2013 by the five-year-old Michigan press that has brought to print works by writers such as Laura van den Berg, Roy Kesey, Terese Svoboda, and Peter Selgin.

Ockert is also the author of Rabbit Punches, published in 2006 by Low Fidelity Press in Brooklyn, New York. In a review of his debut collection, Publishers Weekly says, "Though Ockert's voice is still developing, his beautiful and unexpected imagery make him a writer to be watched."

Take a gander at the author in the video below, in which Ockert previews one of the stories in his forthcoming collection at last year's Virginia Festival of the Book.

Make a list of traditionally happy occasions: Weddings, children's birthday parties, trips to the beach, promotions at the office, etc. Choose one of the occasions and write a story that subverts the reader's expectations by engaging the opposite emotions. How might a children's birthday party turn frightening? (Hint: clowns!) How might a trip to the beach turn sad? Why would someone be angry about a promotion? The answer is always in the story.
This week's fiction prompt comes from Bret Anthony Johnston, fiction writer and editor of Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer.

The shortlist for the fourth annual Man Asian Literary Prize was announced yesterday, marking the first time the relatively new prize has called out titles already published in English. According to an article on yesterday's Wall Street Journal arts blog, the shift took place after organizers found the prize wasn't quite fulfilling its original objective: to seek out and distinguish unknown writers.

The old prize model accepted from Asian writers novel manuscripts that remained unpublished in English, but, despite the proposed aim of the award, did not stipulate at what stage in their careers eligible writers should be. The inaugural winner, selected from more than two hundred and fifty submissions, was Jiang Rong for Wolf Totem, which had already been published in Chinese and sold millions of copies. In 2009, Su Tong, well known for his novel Raise the Red Lantern, won for The Boat to Redemption. Only the 2008 winner, Filipino American writer Miguel Syjuco, was recognized for what would become his debut novel, Ilustrado (and even he had received the prestigious Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature for the same manuscript in the Philippines).

“As we sat down and thought about it, we came to realize that, in fact, the Man Booker [Prize] format of dealing with published novels is a lot better,” David Parker, chairman of the Man Asian Literary Prize, told the Wall Street Journal, referring to the Man Asian Prize's long-running British Commonwealth counterpart. He went on to say that the Booker "is a focus of a conversation about literature that occurs every year. It’s not just about writers and publishers. It’s about readers as well. It’s about the whole culture getting involved in literature.”

This year's conversation-starters are:
Three Sisters (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Bi Feiyu of China
Serious Men (Norton) by Manu Joseph of India
The Thing About Thugs (HarperCollins) by Tabish Khair of India
The Changeling (Grove Press) by Kenzaburo Oe of Japan
Hotel Iris (Picador) by Yoko Ogawa of Japan

The winner of the thirty-thousand-dollar prize will be announced in Hong Kong on March 17.

For one week, collect words and phrases you encounter throughout the day from signs, advertisements, menus, overheard conversations, radio programs, headlines, television, etc. At the end of the week, write a found poem, using these snippets.

Symphony Space in New York City is introducing a little competition to the ticket holders to the March 2 performance of Selected Shorts, its storytelling series. The theater, which houses one of New York City's most literary stages, will hold a story contest—Electric Shorts—on the occasion of Selected Shorts: Electric Literature, a presentation of stories from the digital (and print-on-demand) magazine performed by comedians including Mike Birbiglia and John Lithgow.

To enter, writers should purchase a ticket to the event (fifteen dollars for attendees age thirty and under, twenty-three dollars for Symphony Space members, and twenty-seven dollars for everyone else), then submit a story of up to five hundred words. Each e-mailed submission must include the writer's name, address, phone number, e-mail address, the work's title, its word count, and the date of ticket purchase. The deadline is February 25.

A winner, selected by Electric Literature author Rick Moody, will be announced at the March 2 event, and that winner's story will be read onstage by one of the evening's performers. The story will also be recorded for a Selected Shorts podcast. There is no cash prize for this award (but we do hear there'll be rum cocktails served gratis during the event).

Newspapers are filled with compelling headlines that often include one or two people and describe the final outcome of an event: Man Jumps Off Bridge After Wedding, Woman Kidnapped as Baby Reunites With Family, Flight Attendant Receives Proposal Mid-flight. Read your local newspaper or peruse local newspapers online, and choose a headline. Use it to write a story about what led up to the final outcome the headline describes.

The Man Booker Prize has created another one-off award. Intended to celebrate the life's work of the late Beryl Bainbridge, who had been a finalist for the prestigious British award five times but never won, the Best of Beryl prize will call out the most Booker-worthy of her shortlisted titles, as determined by public vote.

Voters can choose between Bainbridge's novels Master Georgie (1998), Every Man for Himself (1996), An Awfully Big Adventure (1990), the Guardian Fiction Award–winning The Bottle Factory Outing (1974), and  The Dressmaker (1973). (Incidentally, her final novel, The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress, forthcoming in June from Little, Brown, is ineligible for a posthumous Booker nomination—only living writers are considered for the honor.) The Best of Beryl title will be announced in April.

"Beryl did want to win the Booker very much despite her protests to the contrary," says Bainbridge's daughter, Jojo Davies. "We are glad she is finally able to become the bride, no longer the bridesmaid."

Meanwhile, the Guardian's Michael Holroyd takes a more skeptical stance on what exactly the award is celebrating.

In the video below, BBC News takes a look back at the life of Bainbridge at the time of her death last July.

Choose a poem that you’ve written and rewrite it in its reverse, making the last line the first, etc. Revise this version, creating a new poem.

As the new year rages on with news of political unrest abroad, PenTales, a New York City–based organization dedicated to furthering global dialogue through stories, has announced a short story contest on the theme of "revolt." The competition welcomes entries from around the globe (written in or translated into English) that offer unique perspective on the topic.

According to the contest guidelines listed on the PenTales Web site, judge Daniel Rasmussen, author of American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt (Harper, 2011), will be looking for "stories that capture the bravery and idealism of men and women who fight against oppression and injustice; stories that disinter the wild spirit of man in rebellion; stories that remind us of the wild dreams and tremendous risks of complete and total revolt."

The winning work, as well as the second- and third-place selections, will be published on the PenTales Web site along with a review by Rasmussen. The winner will also receive a signed copy of American Uprising.

The deadline for entries, which should be submitted via e-mail, is March 7.

For those seeking inspiration from a book on the subject, this recent post on the New Yorker's Book Bench blog recommends a few illuminating titles, including Gabriel García Márquez's 1975 novel, The Autumn of the Patriarch.

Read the first paragraph of five of your favorite short stories, analyzing how they begin. Do they start with the description or voice of a character? With the description of a place or incident? With dialogue? Choose one of the beginnings and use it as a model for the entryway into a story of your own. See how far it takes you.

Aspinwall, Pennsylvania–based Black Lawrence Press, while experiencing rather modest weather in comparison to points west, has opted to extend the deadline for its novel competition, with snowbound writers in mind.

"We've received word from a number of people that inclement weather across much of the country made it rather difficult to meet Monday's Big Moose Prize deadline," the press's executive editor Diane Goettel writes in an e-mail. "For this reason, we are extending the deadline to February 15. And don't worry, we won't exclude you if you live in a land of sand and sun."

Details about the submission process are available in this earlier post about the prize and on the press's Web site.

If you're under the cloud that is covering most of the country, perhaps today is the day to resist cabin fever and consider submitting that novel—or at least cozying up to write. For a little wintry literary inspiration, check out the video poem below by Black Lawrence Press author Brent Goodman.

Set a timer for five minutes and freewrite—writing anything that comes to mind without stopping until the timer goes off. Then circle every third word or phrase of what you’ve written. Use these circled words as the starting point for a poem.

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