Q: Is it better to write something, then seek out appropriate publications, or seek out publications and then try to write what they’re looking for? Or both? — Sean P. Farley, Escondido, California
A: When it comes to poetry, essays, stories, and any sort of creative writing, I always say: Write what you want to write, first and foremost. (If you’re a freelancer and looking to write for hire, of course, you don’t always get to choose.) But when it comes to creative writing, you must tell the stories you want to tell. For one, being passionate about what you write is the only thing that’s going to interest you enough to 1) stick with it and 2) make it great. And even if you target a specific publication or publisher, unless you get a contract first, there’s no guarantee they’ll publish you anyway — and then you’ve written something that you may not care about as much or that you may not be able to publish elsewhere. So write what you want, always, and then start the publication search.
That said, it’s always good to get an idea of the publications and options that are out there, and this is where the “both” comes in. If you’re planning to submit a novel to an agent or press, do as much research as you can to make sure you’re a good fit. If you’re planning to submit to literary magazines, read and study them; learn what type of work they publish, and this will tell you whether your submission will be competitive. As this LA Times blog post reveals
, the big secret to getting published in literary magazines is quite simply to read the magazines.
I wouldn’t recommend tailoring what you write toward any one publication — unless it’s something you’d write anyway — but if you read a lot and are always doing a little industry research, you’ll be in a great position to get your work published. An example: Years ago, I was working on a short story that just wasn’t going anywhere … I had this idea that I really liked but just couldn’t get it done (and believe me, I tried). So finally I set the story aside to give it some breathing room. Then one day, I was reading Poets & Writers
and noticed a call for submissions for a short-short contest run by the literary magazine Witness
. All of a sudden it hit me: That stubborn story of mine was meant to be a short-short. So I sat down, rewrote it, sent it off, and won the contest. This is not the sort of thing that happens every day (not even every year or two, actually) — but it’s the sort of thing that can happen if you write what you want to write and, at the same time, keep an eye on the opportunities out there.
Good luck & happy writing!
We are thrilled to announce the publication of Patti M. Marxsen’s essay “Archaeologies” as an Ashland Creek Press Short.
In this haunting essay, Marxsen explores the discoveries and losses of a family shattered by divorce. “Archeologists know,” Marxsen writes, “that something precious is always at risk of being lost forever.” In this essay, Marxsen is an archeologist unearthing her own past—one of “the fearless ones who study time as a process of erosion, collision, burial, and rediscovery.” From the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva to the typewriter cubicles at the University of Kentucky, Marxsen takes us on a journey through time, offering us glimpses into the history of Gaza, into the enduring challenges facing women, and into the eroded history of a broken family.
An American writer living in Switzerland, Marxsen is the author of collection of travel essays, Island Journeys: Exploring the Legacy of France (Alondra Press, 2008), a finalist for the Nonfiction Book Award of the Writers’ League of Texas (2009); as well as a collection of short fiction,Tales from the Heart of Haiti (Educa Vision, 2010). Click here to learn more about Marxsen and her work.
And you can enjoy this essay for less than the cost of a latte or a cup of tea! Read it on the Kindle, or download the PDF.
During a break in the rain today we snuck outside and captured a few photos of Ashland’s Tree of the Year from 2004, the Monterey Cypress:
This tree has been around since the early 1900s and it appears close to outgrowing its yard.
Here is a closer view of the trunk:
You can see the full list of Ashland’s honorary trees here.
And here’s more information on the Monterey Cypress.
In honor of Earth Day, we wanted to celebrate — so we went to the Oregon Caves National Monument — literally, into the earth. It turned out to be the perfect way to celebrate the treasure that is our planet.
Located in the Klamath-Siskiyou mountains, the caves were discovered in 1874 by a man named Elijah Davidson, whose dog ran into the cave in pursuit of a bear. Being very devoted to his favorite dog, Davidson followed him into the cave … without enough matches to find his way out again.
We got a sense of what it must’ve been like for him in there: It’s a steady, chilly 44 degrees inside the caves year-round, and it’s slippery, wet, slimy, and incredibly eerie (and that’s with a flashlight, so I can’t even imagine the ghostly effects of firelight). The park ranger turned off the lights a couple of times so we could stand in utter darkness, the silence complete except for the sounds of dripping or running water. It was surreal to be in the middle of a mountain, nearly 300 feet from the ground above us. The water running through the cave, by the way, eventually finds its way to the Pacific Ocean — a salmon-friendly, unobstructed link to the ocean.
We took a ton of photos, so I’ll share a few (the ones that aren’t blurry or don’t have water droplets obstructing the lens). Here’s a photo of “moon milk” — love the heart shape:
And I love this photo of what looks like some prehistoric creature — somehow quite appropriate for when you’re this deep in a cave:
And, finally, here’s a photo from the room called Angel Falls, where plant debris containing fulvic acid has been deposited onto the cave walls by the water flow — and when backlit turns this gorgeous luminescent blue:
And this is only the briefest of tours — learn more at the Oregon Caves web site — better yet, visit if you can.
Oh, and there was a happy ending for the cave’s founder: Davidson and his beloved dog both made it out safely — and the monument was established in 1909.
Q: How do you write a first-person character whose voice doesn’t sound like the writer’s own? At some point does the character just take on his/her own life and you, the author, disappear? — J.W., Seattle
A: Many writers choose to write in a first-person POV because this voice comes naturally — it’s similar to writing in a journal or writing a blog entry. But, as J.W.’s question points out, when it comes to fiction writing, an author needs to make the sure the character can live and breathe on his or her own.
First of all, it’s not the end of the world if your character sounds a lot like you — as long as this character is real, engaging, and true to life. An author may want to avoid characters that resemble themselves for a couple reasons — for example, if you plan to write more than one book or story, you’ll want to diversify; also, you may want to distance yourself and your own life from your characters (a brief note to fiction writers: everyone will think it’s you, anyway, so don’t worry about this too much).
Here are a few exercises to help you bring your characters to life…
- Take one scene and write it from several different POVs: first person (the “I” voice), second person (the “you”) voice, and third person (the “he/she” voice). This helps you get out of your own head and more fully into your character’s. You might also find that you prefer one of these POVs even more than the one you began with.
- Consider some of your character’s opinions, and note where they’re similar to your own — is this necessary, or just convenient? That is, if you and your main character are both married, if you both hate beets, and if you both have German shepherds, perhaps you need to think outside the box a little. Every characteristic of your fictional characters should exist for a reason related to the story, not because it’s simple or easy to assign certain traits.
- Finally, fill in the blanks below — and because this isn’t by any means a comprehensive list, add a few more categories of your own (favorite band, favorite ice cream, shoe size, etc.). This exercise will help you get to know your character as someone separate from yourself.
- Passion, if not same:
- Sexual orientation/status:
- Sexual history:
- Friends & enemies:
- Politics & religion:
- Books & music:
- Most noticeable feature / idiosyncrasy:
And I’d love to hear from you with some of the ways that you develop living, breathing characters — let me know! Happy writing.