Monday, July 30, 2012

Is Graduate School Worth it?

I've spent a great deal of time lately in a less-than-quiet self-reflection. I suppose many people go through periods of self-reflection. I'm also of the opinion that it takes a certain event or serious of events to initial it. Perhaps this is all part of growing up. My period of self-reflection began about nine months ago. It began, perhaps not coincidentally, with the beginning of Janice's pregnancy. And as I consider self-reflection during this time it certainly got deeper as Janice's belly grew. Certainly nine months of preparation and anticipation and the imminent arrival of our son Lucian warranted my thought. These nine months have also been busy in other ways. I completed all the projects (and then some) that I've been meaning to finish. I've been sober to my chagrin, and clear-headed to my horror. And these nine months were the last nine months of my 30s. Yes, plenty of changes.

But this is no time for mere recollections. The question at hand: is graduate school worth it?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Good Expository Writing: the Essay

Writing Nonfiction for the Literary Magazine

Before we get into this portion of Non-fiction for the Literary Magazine, and the nature of essay, let's revisit our definition of a piece of expository writing.
Let's just say nonfiction is a piece of expository writing based in fact. Further definitions are as follows: piece-a work with a beginning, a middle and an end. Expository writing-writing with a purpose such as, but not limited to, explanation, definition, information, description of a subject to the extent that a reader will understand and feel something.
Now, let's discuss the essay. For some reason when most of us think about essay, it just brings back the notion of school, of high school English class and the universal English teacher who was brutal, cruel, unrelenting or just unpredictable. Essay, for most of us is a chore at its best and a nightmare at its worst. But it does not have to be that way. Rather, as adults, as writers, and as pursuers of publication, the essay is probably the best platform for expression.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Philistines Are Upon Us

Holy shit, I think. I'm right too. I'm really right. There is no other way to think about it, and there is no other way of saying it. Holy shit sums it up. It's a sunny day and there are people everywhere and if you're not terrified, then you must be one of them.

I am addressing you.

It's a short walk down SW 4th Ave. At the courthouse, there are bodies littering the sidewalk, the gutters and even spilling into the street. They're sleeping, and it's a form of protest, I'm told. I don't know the nuances of it because I don't care. I understand not wanting a home, and I understand not having one. I slept outside for years, sometimes in tanks, sometimes in tents, sometimes in graveyards. Sleeping on the sidewalks in a busy downtown area seems like vagrancy to me, criminal nearly, this is no protest. I think the best protest of all is apathy. That's right, apathy. There is no possible way to change things, not by voting one dirty bastard in over another, not by sleeping on the sidewalk, not by signing petitions. There are but two pursuits in life: making love and marking art. I believe this is all there is, and if one cannot do either of those, then do what your dad told you to do and go to work and make some money.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Right, Wrong, Indifferent, Too Risky for the Mainstream: Investigated Journalism

Writing Nonfiction for the Literary Magazine

When Mark Dragotta and I first started to mold Umbrella Factory Magazine, we had big goals for our little literary corner. For starters, we thought we'd foster and develop some of the greatest fiction writers of the next generation. We, of course, rolled around ideas of Black Sparrow Press and Charles Bukowski and City Lights Books and everybody cool in the literary world. We also fantasized about our new found forum and the daring journalist of tomorrow.

I have not been disappointed with the writers of fiction and nonfiction or the poets we've met over the years.

We have yet to find our Postmaster.

And for the daring journalists? The Gonzo dream? Well, it's fallen short. It's not there. There aren't any crazy journalist out there who are interested in publishing in our humble magazine. Indeed, there aren't any less than crazy journalists out there willing to publish in our humble magazine. And sadly, Umbrella Factory Magazine is not alone.

At the onset of our development, I knew nothing of journalism. Admittedly, I still know very little. I never studied it in school. The high school newspaper was not of interest to me, the same is true for my college paper. And sadly, the daily paper comes to the house everyday, and I do read it occasionally. I'm sometimes dumbfounded by the poor writing (or editing, I suspect) and I'm baffled by how without flavor the content is. The paper offers some perspective on things, but it seldom shakes things up. I think it may be about something more than just journalism. I think it may have to do with money, advertising; retaining market share and employment.

Who cares about journalism in a literary magazine? Well, no one maybe. And why would a journalist care about a little literary magazine? And how can these types of publications serve these sorts of writers and each be beneficial?

For a trained and employed journalist, the literary magazine is not where they're going to pour their energies. Why? Literary magazines don't pay, and writing an article is still work. I would think that even a rogue journalist, romantic notion if they still exists, will find other outlets. But for a journalist just beginning their training, or their career, a rogue adventure investigating something may be in order. A publication is a publication, after all.

A writer who maybe has an insight into something and may want to employ some journalistic tactics may only have a literary magazine as a potential market.

How can a literary magazine serve a journalist? Well, an online literary magazine may have a varied and potentially limitless distribution. Most literary magazines can be as daring as they want to be because they often do not fear loss of advertising money. It's a great deal of freedom enjoyed by the free press which is really free because there is no exchange of money. With this, as daring, dark, morbid or dirty as a story might be, a literary magazine may have many—many less hangups with it. Also, if the story is well written, an editor of a literary magazine will not edit a story's content because of censorship or physical size. You may not win a Pulizer Prize, but you will have readership.

Some sites to help get a writer into journalistic mode:
Jeremy Porter's “How Do Journalists and Bloggers Decide What to Write About”'s idea of a Journalist's Profile:

And to give you an idea of what I would love to see at Umbrella Factory Magazine:

Investigative Reporting Workshop is one of the engaging online magazines I've seen. Before endeavoring an investigated story of your own, read a few from this magazine. They're well written, well investigated and timely. I would run any number of these stories on UFM.

Enjoy Investigative Reporting Workshop:

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Discovery, the Experience, the Result: The Art of Review

Writing Nonfiction Worthy of the Literary Magazine: The Review

Writing a review, of something (anything) is a great way to flex your muscles as a writer. Case in point, just look at all the blogs, columns and the various things being reviewed. There are reviews on restaurants, chefs; books, movies; products and services. Peoples are working on and writing reviews everywhere. And now, anyone can be a critic, a reviewer; a cynic or a reviler. Take a look at, for instance. Yelp is a wonderful way to connect (or in some cases, disconnect) businesses and potential customers. I find it astonishing how effective a site like Yelp can be. This is not about the food, the chef, the service or the otherwise Yelp-ing experience. The point is, it's everywhere, and it's available to everyone: anyone can review anything. And now, more than ever, it's important to write well.

When we talk about a review it can be anything, right? We can pick a product, compare it to other products and give it a good analysis. A review of a new leaf-blower or a new SUV has its place and that is not a good match for a literary magazine. Can we review a movie, a book or a new pop music album? These sorts of reviews are left best in the weekly or daily papers, and the good news is these sorts of venues generally pay. Again, not necessarily a good match for the literary magazine. I have noticed that many lit-mags will run a book review, but there are two things working under the surface. First, the book itself has a timely or influential reason for the review and second, the person reviewing the book is equally as influential or is an expert. The timeliness of a book review for a lit-mag may be tough since most publish quarterly or monthly. Few magazines run an on-going blog which may be an appropriate market.

The literary magazine is still a great audience for a review. At this stage, the writer of a review must get creative, and moreover, make the subject of the review something of importance. Here's the how-to list, I came up with:

Pick the topic: Knowing that a review on a single book, a single movie or a single recording will not do, the topic of the review must be picked carefully. As macabre as this may sound, choosing to write a review of the work of someone who has recently died may be good form. For instance, the recent death of Ray Bradbury warrants conversation, both on the page and around the water cooler. Revisiting some of your favorite Ray Bradbury books and reviewing them right now is probably a marketable review. Should you travel and see the homes of famous writers, this too might be a good topic. Pick something unique, unusual or fun.

Why is this pertinent?: This is the question of the hour. For instance, back in December of 2010, I went to the Clark County Museum of History. There was a wonderful Richard Brautigan installation complete with photographs, his early poetry and “the Brautigan Library Collection” which if you read The Abortion, you would know why it was so cool to see. But, and I'm just guessing here, you have not read the book, and you probably don't know Richard Brautigan. So, a review of the museum? A review of the writer? Probably not pertinent for a literary magazine. It made a great blog entry, but I would not have accepted this for Umbrella Factory Magazine, and I'm a big Brautigan fan. Is this subject pertinent? Ask yourself again: is this subject pertinent?

Is this timely?: If the subject is pertinent, is it timely? For instance if you write a great review of a book released in September and you start to submit the piece in October, it may not run in a magazine (if it gets accepted at all) until December. If it's not timely, then who cares? Books, reviews, products, everything moves fast.

Who is the audience?: Since this is a review for the literary magazine, remember the audience is mostly other writers. Other writers. Whatever the review, make it good, writers are tough. Before your review gets this audience of writers, it will have an audience of editors. Keep them in mind. Your review is not about you, it's about what you're reviewing.

What does the audience need to know?: If you choose a topic that's broad like the life and accomplishments of Ray Bradbury, you've lost already. If you choose Ray Bradbury's treatment of Venus in his short stories, then maybe you'll choose to mention that he died on the day Venus crossed the sun. Again, write this review with the audience in mind. No one likes to get lost in the details.

Is this review unique?: Ask yourself this question three hundred times. Rephrase the question and ask yourself again. Then take all those questions and ask the Internet. You'll find out quickly how unique your review is.

Good luck, and I mean it. The best way to write a good review is to first write 1,000 of them. Give the 1,001st review to the literary magazine and you'll be in a good position. So what do you do with the former 1,000 reviews? It may be a good time to start a blog.

Here are some sites I found useful: