Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas to our Creative Writer US readers

South Carolina artist Valerie Lumpkin creates each Carolina angel from natural materials like seashells and moss, adding glitter and paint. Lumpkin creates a distinct personality for each angel she crafts. I've purchased dozens of these from her over the years, for decorating at Christmas and for gifts.

We hope all our Creative Writer US readers have a holiday filled with joy and peace.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Blogs move beyond original concept, some carry liability for authors

Of late, I’ve discussed blogging with many different writers. Looking to the not so distant past, I remember when people first began to dash off Weblog confessionals. Most, but not all, early blogs tended to repeat the word “I” ad nauseam, were inclined to offer lots of personal information we don’t really want or need (who cares if you smoke two cigarettes after sex?), and came wrapped in writing that demonstrated less not more when it came to skill. Then mainstream media began to take note. Blogs were drawing readers and more importantly, some were being sold for large sums of money. Now just about every major media outlet has a blog section, and many newspapers offer readers free blogs.

With the blog going mainstream, I think a lot about content and liability. I’ve often mentioned the Orlando mom who was sued for criticizing her child’s school, and I heard a snippet yesterday on the radio that made me curious. There’s at least one major lawsuit in a New York court right now involving defamation. I didn’t catch the whole commentary because the host of the show (I don’t even know his name) cut to a commercial just as I was arriving at my destination.

I’ve come to the conclusion that blogs will ultimately end up being held to the standard established publications apply to professionally written content. The format is already changing—blogs hosted by Google and other services have gradually increased opportunities for design.

What we accepted in the early Weblog days is changing, with mainstream media increasingly featuring blog owners on talk-news shows and even in print features. I hold to my prediction lawsuits will increase. Once someone is defamed in a story on the Web, there’s a wildfire effect, with bloggers seizing the story with a simple goal of increasing traffic. Problem is many don’t do their homework, relying on a single source for information rather than doing the dull tedious research that any story deserves. Web stories hang around, unlike print stories that go into the recycle bin after a day or two.

I did a Web Savvy column at The Writer, interviewing an attorney about liability and copyright issues. Part I is up and Part II will publish after the first of the year.

I’d urge anyone who writes a personal blog to tread carefully with accusatory stories. Quote carefully and correctly, if for no other reason than fairness, and to avoid spending time and money with an attorney.

Monday, December 17, 2007

War of the Words

Online political content can sometimes pit left against right in a war of semantics. Even seasoned journalists can get caught in the conflict. That’s exactly what happened to a colleague who is also my friend after he blogged for National Review Online. I felt compelled to share his story.

When blogs first began to appear on the Internet, hobby writers created a virtual stampede. The format alone gave anyone an easy-to-use forum for political views or creative writing. Appreciating the success of sites like Daily Kos, mainstream media followed suit. Media reports have noted that even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blogs, writing about his experiences as the president of Iran.

Blogging a top content feature at political sites
For veteran journalists like W. Thomas Smith, Jr., the blog format offered a convenient, immediate way to report news. An independent journalist whose articles have appeared in numerous mainstream publications, Smith began to write for The Tank, a group blog hosted at National Review online. His dispatches from places like Iraq and Lebanon were filed in the spirit of legendary war correspondents like Ernie Pyle. Smith’s writing at The Tank, as might be expected, was more casual and far less formal than the features and analytical pieces he writes for national magazines and book publishers. The conventional approach of a blog is, after all, accessibility to the reader, offering a welcome mat via a conversational tone.

A well-known conservative on matters of defense and government, Smith also served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an infantry leader, parachutist, and shipboard "special weapons" security and counterterrorism instructor. Following his hitch in the Corps, he served on a para-military SWAT team in the nuclear industry. He has covered battles in the Balkans, Israel, Iraq and in other countries. Within days of 9-11, he headed to New York on his own dime to cover the first widespread attack on American soil by a foreign entity.

When he arrived in Lebanon September 25th, he filed his first post at The Tank: “Arrived here [in Beirut] less than two hours ago (after 25-hours of travel and layovers). Now relaxing here in the Al Dekwaneh neighborhood-offices of the International Lebanese Committee for UN SCR 1559 (more on that later).”

There was no editorial annotation at that point, explaining the committee. National Review attracts a relatively informed reader who would likely assume Smith, a conservative, was dealing with other conservatives, readers who would have at least a passing familiarity with UN SCR 1559, a resolution that included a call for disarming militias in Lebanon. Naturally, one of those militias would be Hezbollah.

More on Hezbollah
In June, 2007, in testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, James Phillips, research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, said, “Hezbollah is a cancer that has metastasized, expanding its operations from Lebanon, first to strike regional targets in the Middle East, then far beyond.” Phillips noted the United States, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands have designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group, with the United Kingdom placing the “Hezbollah External Security Organization” on its terrorist list. Phillips also pointed out, “But the European Union has dragged its feet on taking serious action against Hezbollah.” One country’s terrorist, in other words, is another’s freedom fighter.

As might be expected, the blog format popular with American political pundits has become popular in other parts of the world. Lebanon is no exception.

On a populist site, Lebanese Forces, a poster named “Drinkaholic” whose location is noted as “somewhere near Lebanon,” put things in perspective on the forum on December 7. “I can see that Hezbollah is acting in a very wrong way, it has become like a state-within-state where for example it even has sort of like it’s [sic] own police force in Dahieh!” Another post concluded, “Hezbollah now has a huge base of weapons, and so other (sects) feel threatened by this now and won’t accept to see such a large amount of weapons held by just one party.” Visitors to the site commented, in the discussion thread, on Hezbollah’s physical strength and presence in Lebanon.

Smith fires off dispatches amid a volatile political climate
Meanwhile, Smith filed his dispatches in streaming prose, relying on trusted sources, writing further in his initial post, “Between the airport and the committee's office, we (my escorts and I) passed by the sprawling Hezbollah tent city — some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen — positioned between the parliament and the Serail, basically the headquarters of the prime minister, his deputies, and all the cabinet members.”

Four days later, he wrote, “Hezbollah is rehearsing for something big here. Not sure what or when. But a few days ago, between 4,000 and 5,000 HezB gunmen deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling “show of force,” positioning themselves at road intersections and other key points throughout the city.”

Smith’s dispatches, though technically a series published in chronological order, were not published one after another in sequence. The Tank is a group blog, so one writer’s posts may be separated by another’s. Smith would have no idea that the blogging platform actually posed a challenge to the cohesiveness of his posts. The structure of The Tank distanced posts where Smith cited sources from other posts where he did not. He filed his dispatches on the fly in a conversational tone as he traveled.

In December, after pro-democracy Lebanese Brig. Gen. Francois al-Hajj was assassinated by a car bomb, Smith would later write an article at the Web site Family Security Matters and further express his thoughts about the political climate in Lebanon: “There is also the inability of Lebanon to elect a president; the existence of the virtual state of Hezbollah (the “kingdom of Hezbollah” as some Lebanese have told me) within the so-called sovereign state of Lebanon; the manipulation of the media (both nationally and internationally) in that country; and the unchecked money, weapons, and influence of Iran and Syria.”

Dissenting voices weigh in on Lebanon
Weeks after Smith returned to the United States, Thomas B. Edsall, a special correspondent for The New Republic, would write an article for a “progressive” Web site, The Huffington Post. Edsall named two journalists who questioned Smith’s veracity about his dispatches from Lebanon. Smith’s detractors described him with a level of hyperbole common on political blogs. Edsall cited Chris Allbritton, who called Smith a “fabulist.” Albritton said Smith’s “claim that 4,000 Hezbollah gunmen took over East Beirut at the end of September simply never happened.”

What Edsall didn’t point out was Allbritton’s slightly mangled quote in his email to Edsall. Smith never used the term “took over.” Smith applied the verb “deployed,” in the word’s primary definition connoting the idea of positioning. Allbritton’s perspective possibly stemmed from his lack of familiarity with military terms.

Edsall also quoted journalist Mitchell Prothero who alleged that Smith’s accounts, including the “presence of 200 armed Hezbollah fighters in downtown Beirut laying siege to the prime minister’s office….is all insane.” Edsall had included a direct lift of some of Smith’s words regarding the 200 armed fighters. In his December 1 article, Edsall noted Smith’s claim that the fighters occupied “a sprawling Hezbollah tent city.”

The only problem there: Smith’s actual post said the Hezbollah fighters were positioned. He did not use the term, laying siege.

During a slow news week a small story becomes a big one
Over a period of days, Smith’s accusers gained ground with the momentum of a cavalry charging down a steep slope. CNN interviewed Edsall, and numerous print publications carried stories alleging Smith “fabricated.” The Columbia Journalism Review noted Smith reported “fabrications fed to him by sources during a trip to Lebanon this fall.” Coincidentally, Edsall is a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, in addition to his work as a correspondent for The New Republic and his position as political editor of The Huffington Post. Other publications like Salon and Harper’s levied criticism against Smith, apparently relying on Edsall’s analysis for research. None of the publications relying on Edsall’s analysis contacted Smith.

Edsall’s original headline queried, “In The Tank: Did National Review Reporter Make His Stories Up?”

Smith remained calm for a journalist being criticized even by conservative columnist Michelle Malkin. “This thing is just so complex,” he said during a phone interview. As far as making things up, “I didn’t.” Kathryn Lopez, an online editor for National Review, told a conservative Internet radio host Smith’s sources were “trusted.” But she added she couldn’t independently verify the sources. She apologized extensively to her readers and to media. She did not point out that getting Hezbollah or any of the media associated with the “resistance” would be unlikely to corroborate statements made by the other party. That would be similar to getting Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee to agree on taxes or federal spending.

'Progressives' busy defending stories about the Baghdad Diarist
Meanwhile, the “progressives” were busy putting out their own fires and those fires were considerably hotter than Smith’s. Franklin Foer wrote a ten page exposition in The New Republic, expressing his thoughts about Scott Thomas Beauchamp, popularly known as the Baghdad Diarist who accused American troops of heinous conduct in Iraq. Beauchamp’s work was published by The New Republic.

Foer noted the individual who checked Beauchamp’s facts turned out to be a young woman—an intern for the magazine—who eventually married Beauchamp after he and she met online. The word “fabricated” or a form of it was used to describe the American soldier’s dispatches from Iraq. Beauchamp had claimed among other things a soldier wore part of a human skull like a yarmulke and other soldiers deliberately ran over stray dogs. Beauchamp’s first-hand accounts of life as an American soldier in Iraq, initially filed without using his real name, became suspect, and conflagration ensued after The New York Times ran a story raising doubt about the diarist’s claims. As might be expected, conservative publications subsequently had a field day, levying heavy criticism against The New Republic for the dubious claims.

In some publications, Smith’s predicament was compared to that of Beauchamp.

“They’re saying I lied, that I made things up and I didn’t,” Smith said with steely resolve, speaking by phone from his office in South Carolina.

Should standards for pro bloggers be developed?
Asked if the format itself—the blog, carrying an impression of informality dating to its roots when a blog was called a weblog and viewed more or less as an online diary, as well as the physical structure of non-sequential postings by multiple authors at The Tank—caused part of the problem, Smith called blogging “a new dynamic.” He added, “There needs to be proper sourcing and attribution when reporting events on the scale, and in the complex environment of Lebanon.”

Smith did source his statements, but the sourcing was, by virtue of the posting format, often separated from future statements by those sources. The situation that confronted him is one that many editors may consider as blogs continue to grow in popularity and traffic. Should a link to the first in a series be placed by subsequent posts, to remind the reader of sources’ identities and political slants? Should opposing parties each have a say in assessments of politics in a country or culture? Will blogs ultimately be held to the same standards as a typical feature in a mainstream publication? Should mainstream publications embrace the point of view of writers with a declared political bent, and refrain from contacting the opposition for a different viewpoint?

Those questions indicate, aside from the fact blogging is here to stay, the format has grown up and, over the protests of many fringe writers, become mainstream. With that growth come challenges unique to new technology. Standards are sure to follow.

Smith weathered the storm with perseverance characteristic of a Marine. As his reputation was dissected by media, some of whose intentions might be considered suspect, he shrugged it off with dry humor. “Using a military analogy, I failed to deploy pickets for security on my flanks.”

Further Reading:

Facts: Statement by W. Thomas Smith,Jr. at US Writer

The Story behind the Story by W. Thomas Smith, Jr. at US Writer

Smith is a Hero by Tom Harb, Secretary General of the International Lebanese Committee for UN Security Council Resolution 1559, at World Defense Review

American Mercenaries of Hezbollah by Tom Harb (see above) at Family Security Matters

In The Tank: Did National Review Reporter Make His Stories Up? by Thomas B. Edsall for The Huffington Post

W. Thomas Smith, Jr., and His Reporting from Lebanon by Herschel Smith at Captain's Journal

Scandal Equivalence by John Tabin at American Spectator

W. Thomas Smith, Jr., The Saga Continues by Steven Foley for The Minority Report

Ed. Note: All the articles cited are online. Because online content can easily be changed, I printed the original documents as they first appeared, for fact-checking purposes.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Exploiting the news for pay

A writer’s best friend is the news. Whether you’re a journalist, poet or novelist, you can always find something to inspire you. You then simply translate your epiphany to a published work.

Many of my poems have been written as a result of something that happened, something that inspired me to speak. I recall seeing the story of a river that flooded a community. Ironically, this was the second time the river did this. I found myself wondering why these people would rebuild without resolving the issue in the first place. I wrote the poem, “Monologue by a River,” and it was published by an educational publisher then included in my collection A Poetry Break. I guess because the poem is a sonnet, people latch onto it.

I just finished an article for a new client I provide content to, Beyond Madison Avenue. This is a really fun account for me; blogging for a client is definitely a plus since I seem addicted to this form. I’d seen a PBS clip about Dr. Ron Paul’s remarkable fundraising via the Internet. I found it fascinating that a candidate could raise the kind of money he did without his official organizers doing a thing to orchestrate it. To read the story, visit Beyond Madison Avenue.

After Ken Burns’ movie The War aired, he came to the University of North Florida to do a lecture. I cover news here in Jax, so I went to the lecture and then arranged a followup interview. Burns and his script writer Geoffrey C. Ward will be the cover feature for The Writer in March, 2008. Chuck Leddy did the article about Ward; I wrote about Burns.

I learned about an Orlando mom who got sued for writing a blog. That spurred me to look into liability issues for writers, a topic I believe will increase in importance because, let’s face it, everybody wants to write these days. With lots of help from fellow members in the American Society of Journalists and Authors, I interviewed a leading intellectual property rights attorney. I cover the topics of liability and copyright issues in my column Web Savvy at the online site for The Writer—part I published yesterday and part II will go live around the end of the year.

I admit I’m an avid (even rabid) consumer of news. I’ll read anything if it’s topical. It brings me pleasure to know what’s happening in the world. And it also helps me to publish freelance work. Win-Win.

Poets who read Creative Writer US may want to read the interview I did with Donald Hall in the December issue of The Writer. And watch for a story I did about Hanukkah for The Florida Times Union.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Top ten gift ideas for writerly types

This is the time of year when my family gets annoyed with me. My younger daughter is a perfect example. She asks, "What do you want for Christmas?" Then before I can utter a syllable she says with disdain, "Oh, I know! Legal pads and stamps, right?" Truth is, I like practical gifts for myself--things that can be used in my home office-- though I don't apply that to others. When I select a gift for someone, I honestly try to pick something he or she would like rather than what I want to give. Being a freelancer produces special needs, so here are my top ten suggestions for the writer on your list. I can't guarantee this is what your writer will want. I can guarantee these items are/would be useful to me. I've included helpful remarks below each item.

(Drum roll begins).

1. Postage stamps
I know, they're almost obsolete, right? But when you need a stamp you gotta' have one and I always seem to run low. I don't need enough of them to go the online postage route and if I can avoid a trip to the postal center I do.

2. Starbucks or Panera gift card
In every city I've traveled to (well, almost every city), I look for coffee. Enough said.

3. A good bottle of wine
That doesn't necessarily mean you break the bank by selecting the most expensive bottle you can afford. If you don't drink (my sympathies to you on that note), visit a good wine shop and talk to the salesperson. A bottle of wine is good for occasions when you sign that exciting contract or when you screw up big time.

4. Sparco Brand Reporter's Notebooks
My favorite. If your writer does interviews, this is the way to go. I get mine from

5. Multipurpose paper, 8 1/2" x 11", preferably recycled, and/or paper clips (jumbo size)
Do I really need to explain this one? I didn't think so.

6. Gas card
Gas is the hidden expense that goes on taking all year long. Despite the fact gas prices have risen to a point parallel to the tip of Mt. Everest, rates for my freelance brethren and me are static. So a gas card will bring a smile to any freelancer's face. Unless of course he or she relies on public transportation or uses a bike, neither of which is doable for many of us.

7. Gift card to a restaurant
Always helpful despite the fact many of us eat in Mom&Pop restaurants that don't sell gift cards.

8. Red pens
Somebody always takes my red pen and I really need these not only to correct spelling and grammar on my first drafts but also to add the brilliant afterthoughts that will delight my editors and readers. Plus it's more fun to doodle with a red pen when you're locked into one of those long, drawn-out phone calls you'd love to conclude but can't find a polite or honest way to do so.

9. Gift card for books
Any bookstore will do.

10. Item for neurotic moments
This one has some wiggle room. Try a squeeze ball or something that can be hurled at the wall without causing damage to the wall or anything else. This is because if you work as a writer, you are guaranteed moments when you will need to throw something at something. I once threw my pencil sharpener into the back yard, and that was not a good idea because then I had to purchase another pencil sharpener.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Does a writer deserve to be paid?

There's an interesting post at the blog TechCrunch, about how easy it is to use portable media devices for "stealing books." The writer notes the technology known as BitTorrents conveniently enables this act. What's even more interesting is the discussion following the post. One fellow, Chris, who describes himself as a writer, offers some interesting views about compensating writers. He posits that publishers rip us off on contracts, but a reader who illegally acquires a book by the use of technology is doing no harm. Chris believes we should value all readers (desperately seeking readers?) whether they pay for our product or not.

I posted a question on the discussion, asking Chris whether he's paid for what he writes or whether he's been doing the deed for free. I'll let you know if there's a response.

While ivory towers are useful, most of us who try to earn a living by the pen do not have the luxury of an ivory tower. Some of us write full-time, others teach and write on the side, and still others work a non-related day job to be able to write during leisure time.

I obviously love my work--otherwise I wouldn't do it. But I also expect to be paid for content I supply to a publication or Web site. I like royalties from my books. Do you think those who own publications, presses, or Web sites are doing it for free? Should the U.S. follow the suit of countries where government controls the written word, reimbursing journalists and others who write?

I have a hard time wrapping my brain around working for nothing. When grocers fill my bag with free food items and gas stations pump fuel at no charge, when utilities supply me with free water and when cats stop chasing songbirds, I suppose we can all work for free. Until then, you work you should be paid.

Ed. note: In the article at Tech Crunch, since BitTorrents is mentioned, readers should be aware the technology does not cloak users' identities. Numeric Internet addresses are viewable, according to Bram Cohen, BitTorrents developer. Cohen was interviewed by The New York Times. He told the paper he didn't envision people using his technology for copyright infringement. Read our Covering Florida story of an Orlando man facing 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for participating in a the Elite Torrents network, involving file sharing of music, games, movies and software.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Challenge to geek brains: come up with a solution for copyright registration and release writers from the prison of government monopoly

The Writers Guild of America strike and the recent ruling over content rights for print journalists reflect discord in the entertainment industry and in traditional publishing. In all corners of the content world, dialog is in progress over a number of issues, with new media at the forefront. Who could foresee the impact technology would have on the writing profession? New developments are announced with a frequency akin to the reproduction capabilities of rabbits. The entertainment industry appears unified and well-protected. The publishing industry is anything but.

Years ago, a contract from a periodical was a simple thing. Now, most publications want all possible, foreseeable, future and even maybe rights when they make an agreement with a journalist. Questions abound. Should a writer be paid for content uploaded to a cell phone? Should a writer be compensated if content originally run in print is published on the Web? Should a writer be allowed to pursue financial recompense if he or she didn’t formally register with the U.S. Copyright Office? This last question is one that perplexes and bothers me most of all. The U.S. Copyright Office notes, as I’ve pointed out before, the following:
In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

And the monopoly for registration is owned by none other than the federal government.

I fail to see the logic. The government position assumes the only valid means of protecting the potential monetary value of one’s work rests in the government. Anytime something rests in the government, I get a little nervous. The downside of the current copyright registration procedure involves writers like me having to spend time filing forms and (naturally: it’s a government thing) paying to protect something I already own in the first place. And if you’ve ever tried to call the U.S. Copyright Office, you know that is essentially a pipe dream. The line is always, always, always busy. Journalists and other writers are as imprisoned as a felon when it comes to seeking damages from plagiarists who steal the work of others. Lacking an official U.S. Copyright document all a writer can do is demand the work be removed from a Web site, and there doesn’t appear to be much at all you can do if someone lifts lengthy passages for a book.

So here’s my challenge. Geek people, seize opportunity. Come up with a simple database where a writer can pay a fee and register his or her works online. Come up with some means of vetting the writer’s identity. Badger government officials—you know, the ones we elect to allegedly represent us—to determine how to set up the system so it will pass muster in the courts.

As a writer, I am extremely annoyed that the only hope of financial recompense, should someone steal my work, is in government hands and worse, the courts. When judges understand the freelance writing profession, I will look up at the Florida skies and see my hound dog flying wildly, waving to me as he wags his tail with joy, baying at the new feathered friends he’s made.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Authors Guild issues statement about copyright settlement reversal

Posted with permission from The Authors Guild, a statement emailed to members Nov. 29 about the reversal in the Freelance Class-Action settlement:

We received surprising and disappointing news in our freelance class action suit this morning. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, in a 2-1 decision, the district court's approval of the settlement.

That settlement, valued at up to $18 million, was to resolve the copyright infringement claims of freelance writers against database companies, such as Dow Jones and the owners of Lexis-Nexis, that had made digital use of the writers' articles without permission. Plaintiffs and defendants had arrived at settlement in 2005.

The appellate court ruled that the district court lacked jurisdiction over claims relating to unregistered freelance articles. Copyright registration is required to bring a suit for infringement, but since registration is viewed as a formality (comparable, many of us believe, to the requirement that one file a complaint in order to get into court), lawyers on both sides thought the settlement could resolve infringement claims for both registered and unregistered works.

The settlement had been objected to and appealed by a group of freelance writers who thought it failed to allot sufficient funds to the claims of authors of unregistered works. If this decision stands, of course, such claims would be shut out entirely.

The shard of good news is that there is a substantial dissenting opinion by Judge Walker. We are considering our options at the moment. One possibility is to seek an en banc review (a review by all of the judges of the 2nd Circuit) to see whether we can persuade a majority of the court to see things our way.

For more information, visit The Authors Guild on the Web. The Authors Guild is an organization for writers, founded 90 years ago.

Freelance writers’ claims nixed for works published on Internet; NWU president calls court decision ‘an outrage’

The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan voided a settlement on Thursday, resulting in widespread implications for freelance writers. The New York Times reported Judge Chester J. Straub contended in his decision, “… federal copyright law allows claims for damages only by writers who have registered their work with the United States Copyright Office. The vast majority of freelancers did not register, so he said the courts had no jurisdiction over their disputes, and the case should not have been approved as a class-action suit.”

An original agreement had been brokered in 2005 and approved by the courts, whereby publishers would reimburse writers for Web use. Straub apparently contradicts the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2001 that digital reproduction without permission violates the author’s rights.

Straub’s ruling also contradicts information listed in F.A.Q. on the U.S. government Copyright Office site declaring that copyright exists from the moment the work is created. Bear the fine print listed on the U.S. government Copyright Office Web site in mind, however:
Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”

Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney's fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within 5 years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works.

The courts typically favor creative workers in the entertainment industry, but when it comes to writers, it’s a sad tale of abandonment and woe. It’s this writer’s opinion that courts have little idea of the intricacies and practices in the publishing industry. Gerard Colby, National Writers Union president, called the latest decision an “outrage,” and he told the Times he hopes the decision can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Book by William F. Buckley, Jr., featuring ‘Notes and Asides’ a journey into politics past and present

Love him or hate him, William F. Buckley has led a charmed, interesting and productive life. His book, Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription, Notes and Asides from National Review, plunges the reader into the author’s experiences by way of letters, commentary and memos related to his work at the iconic conservative magazine Buckley founded in 1955.

Reading the book is akin to surfing a Web site sans links. Some of the letters from readers are reproduced in typography that looks like a typewriter font. The text arrangement is punchy, with ample spacing. I felt at times as though I were rummaging a desk in someone else’s office. Buckley offers the reader a front row seat on exchanges with the likes of Art Buchwald, the late presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, Evelyn Waugh and many other individuals from different backgrounds. In addition the NR founder and long-time editor also known for his enduring TV show ‘Firing Line’ argues points of grammar with staff members, creates fanciful explanations for once erring when he quoted Shakespeare, and counsels students who wrote admiring messages to him. For writers, the dialog about prepositions, commas and style points will amuse and in some cases, inform.

The book is often laugh-out-loud funny. There is a letter from Charlton Heston wherein he pretends to be God. In one letter written in 1986, Lee Wasserman of Cleveland, Ohio, asks why is [Libyan dictator, Mohammar] Qaddafi … “only a colonel?” Buckley replied, “Maybe because Colonel Qaddafi shot all the generals?”

A reader comes away realizing that much of what Americans complain about today is almost identical to what we complained about 50 years ago. It may come as a surprise to many that complaints have endured, such as the federal government overstepping its bounds, conflicts and antipathy between liberals and conservatives, national defense, errors in media reportage, and the high price of oil. Considering National Review cranked up printing presses before color television sets and microwave ovens, I came to the conclusion our complaints will probably endure for another half century at least.

Even Buckley’s critics must acknowledge his wit and intellect. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about politics, history and literature, for a no-holds-barred look at a man who has become an American institution, beloved by true conservatives, admired by libertarians, and feisty enough to still draw criticism (and on occasion, figurative blood) from liberals. It's worth the price of the book alone to read the letter of praise from none other than Dan Rather. Until I read that, I thought I'd seen it all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Vanity Fair takes creative nonfiction to a whole new level

I picked up the November issue of Vanity Fair a few weeks ago, and the content reflects why this is one of my favorite magazines. The cover shot of the late president John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie stopped me in my tracks in the bookstore. It’s a remarkable photograph by Richard Avedon, perfectly capturing the crinkles around Kennedy’s eyes when he smiled, and evoking instant recall of Camelot, something we Americans aren’t likely to experience again anytime soon.

The cover feature includes excerpts from the journals of the late Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. We get a fly-on-the-wall view of the president’s inner circle and the president’s state of mind. One entry dated January 10, 1963, recounts Kennedy’s comments about the “candor of wives.” The president noted that if a wife said something in Washington, D. C., everyone assumed she was saying what her husband really thought. “Last night,” Kennedy said, “I suddenly heard Jackie telling [Andre] Malraux that she thought [German chancellor Konrad] Adenauer was ‘un peu gaga.’ I am sure this has already been reported to Paris as my opinion.”

The VF content is drawn from exclusive images by Avedon and text by Shannon Thomas Perich, part of the new book The Kennedys: Portrait of a Family. Images in the VF feature are mesmerizing. I think only the late president Ronald Reagan came anywhere close to evoking the spell JFK could cast, and no one has really topped him.

There’s a bonus in the magazine, in the form of an article about Lou Pearlman who fled his Orlando mansion in January, accused of embezzling more than $300 million. “Pearlman’s passion for boy bands was also a passion for boys,” writes Bryan Burrough.Pearlman founded the Backstreet Boys and 'NSync, among other bands. Burrough’s article reads like a mini-novel, keeping the reader flipping the page and regretting there has to be an end. Fascinating piece by a very talented writer. (Sidenote: why does stuff like this always happen in Florida?)

There’s so much good work published now. Vanity Fair, despite annoying me with political posturing at times, never fails to impress me with the quality of their content. I might add that most publications in the marketplace often annoy me with political posturing, and the worst of those is Time.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday after Thanksgiving: Cash registers go ‘ding’ at malls; keys go tap tap in the freelance word factory

The first day back after any holiday always hurts. Like when you get one of those little paper slash cuts as you lick an envelope. You get the wince and the ouch. It hurts whether you had a good holiday or a bad holiday.

My Thanksgiving ended up Turkey Perfect. As soon as I closed the laptop last Wednesday, I managed to ditch every single work-related thought. I’d spent several weeks trying to get ahead so I could have 4 days off with family, friends and critters. By the time I started cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I had reached a sort of Nirvana populated by bowls, mixing cups and wire whisks. When I chopped fresh apple for breakfast muffins, the scent alone took me miles away from end of month billings, articles due and the hundreds of emails I never seem to catch up on. I cooked, we built fires (outside), we watched football and movies and took walks. When Sunday evening rolled around, I was already wincing.

Naturally, Monday morning got off to a rollicking start and I am already trying to set schedules so I can have even more time off at Christmas.

The freelance writing business is a stressful, labor intensive and sometimes lonely endeavor. And the best method I’ve found for coping is taking time off. The navel gazing my hound is doing in the photo above makes a great case for downtime. Creativity recharges, energy increases, and bliss comes from losing yourself in work. On the other hand, all that good stuff happens only after the initial paper slash feeling wears off as you stand there on Monday, wondering how you’re going to get it all done. When you dive in, that’s when the good stuff starts and the keys go to tapping. (Photo by Becky Day)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Poem for the football season and Happy Thanksgiving

“Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio” by James Wright is one of my favorite poems, especially this time of year. These lines are stuck in my head:
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.
Wright’s poetry is remarkable. Read the whole poem and other info about Wright at the Academy of American Poets site.

I’ll keep his lines in mind as we gather to watch the Carolina-Clemson war on Saturday. Family, food, football and a balmy Florida sky make a perfect Thanksgiving for our crew. I’ll return to Creative Writer US after the holiday, unless something special breaks.

I hope you and yours have a lovely, safe holiday.

**I took the photo above Sunday. Two kayakers were heading out of the creek to the river. We took a thermos of coffee down to Mandarin Park to watch the boats come in.**

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

NYT news desk reportedly suggests omitting dates from stories—big bad move

Charles Kaiser at Radar Online says the New York Times news desk has (reportedly) proposed omitting dates stories were filed.

Kaiser says there’s a suggestion “circulating." Kaiser quotes a NYT memo stating, "We'll still call them datelines, but they will now give only the name of the place, with no date."

Apparently, staffers want stories to retain that fresh feel. Maybe they could come up with an expiration date, like the ‘use by’ date on my milk.

It really feels silly to even talk about why this is a bad idea. Accountability. Duh, once. Wire services may abandon you. Duh, going twice.

Leave your dateline intact, NYT. You should never leave the presses (or the screen) without it. Duh for the final time.

~~~Related link: Visit Kaiser’s blog at Radar Online.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Women's magazines buck trends, sizzle

A writeup in Time magazine (Nov. 12) suggests women’s magazines are bucking industry trends by thriving. Ad revenues in one division of the Hearst Corp.—the division that publishes O and Cosmopolitan along with 17 other titles—increased to $2.5 billion from $841 million over a ten year period. Freelancers can take heart because this field, dominated by glossies, tends to pay more than creative, literary or news oriented publications.

Readers basically are bombarded with information in these content-laden (and ad-heavy) periodicals. I know because I have two daughters. I contribute to the well-being of these magazines by having more subscriptions than we can possibly read. I am at least two weeks behind on both Time Magazine and months behind on National Geographic. But our femme mags are dogeared within days of trotting into the home. We often hit high points with the information onslaught. Recently my husband received a cucumber facial, courtesy of our younger daughter. I am holding onto the photo of my man with his face covered in perfectly symmetrical cucumber slices. This photo is a powerful weapon. He won’t admit it, but his face really did look more youthful when the veggies came off.

Read women’s magazines and you will know what to cook for every meal, even if all your guests are from Morocco. You will be inspired to go on any number of special diets guaranteed to remove tummy flab. You will not be inspired to remain on those diets. You will learn things you never knew about sex, even if you have a long time mate and have reasonable levels of creativity. You will also read mountains of spiritually moving stories penned by women who have overcome every conceivable obstacle, including having 14 kids stuck in a 1500 sq. ft. Fargo home when the snow is higher than the barn and you can stand in front of the mirror and watch your eyes take on the sheen Jack Nicholson displayed so well in The Shining.

A managing director at a New York brokerage firm told Time everybody thinks the Internet is…where things are happening, but women’s magazines aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Unless that is, you’re the mother of daughters and all of you want to know what’s hot in colors for the upcoming season. Lots of attention from these quarters, and from 74 million readers of Hearst Corp.’s glossy content as well.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Daily Kos creator Markos Moulitsas gets mainstream gig at Newsweek for presidential election coverage

Two sources—the Huffington Post and—say Newsweek has tapped enterprising liberal Markos Moulitsas to help cover the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Moulitsas founded Daily Kos and parlayed the blog to a Technorati rank of 11 and a Google page rank that any dedicated blogger can envy—a 7. The blog is a great place for reading progressive political content.

My first impulse is to congratulate Moulitsas—he’s a blogging success story. He actually makes money for this. Amazing—that’s a feat sort of like being able to skate on crushed ice.

Some conservatives have reportedly taken a dim view of the Kos penning progressive content for the iconic American news magazine. Personally, I think he’ll be a great addition to the commentary. I don’t agree with everything at Daily Kos, but the site provides interesting, well-written content. Moulitsas is tapped into the heart and soul of his political party. That makes him a credible source for that party’s politics, and it must be pointed out he can be critical of his own as well.

I’ve said it before and because this is a good talking point for my own beliefs—the United States doesn’t need a Fairness Doctrine. The marketplace takes care of that. Moulitsas successfully built a platform most authors would love to have. In the same tradition as Rush Limbaugh and his Republican principles, Moulitsas brings his party's news and platforms to Americans interested in progressive party politics and current affairs.

I’m glad to see a mainstream magazine cover all aspects of our political persuasions. And I’m glad to see a blogger who worked hard and who worked with passion achieve some sort of recognition and compensation.

For me, one of the greatest hours on TV is Hannity and Colmes. Snappy Sean and droll Alan nip at each other's politics and entertain us in the process.

Meanwhile, readers are curious to see who'll balance Kos in Newsweek.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writing a place as a poem

Several months ago, I offered to pen a dedication poem for a park in my neighborhood, the Billard Commemorative Park and Veteran’s Memorial developed by the Mandarin Community Club. Mandarin reminds me a lot of my hometown in South Carolina, so this place spoke to me in a very personal way. The Billard property was a family homestead for many years, but the home itself was deemed unsalvageable.

I rode by the property several times—enough to probably make neighbors in the oak tree lined community think I was casing somebody’s home. One of the first impressions I had of Mandarin is an adjective. Sturdy. The community is family oriented, yet there is diversity in abundance. When I first moved here, I wrote about taking my cleaning to a fellow from Bulgaria (his wife had a CD of lively wedding music playing) and then ordering a sandwich from a gentlemen from India who owns a deli here. I’ve covered stories for freelance clients about refugees from dozens of countries who come to the U.S. legally to escape persecution. My life is enriched immeasurably by living here.

The community manifests universal hopes—regardless of our country of origin, we all want safety, education and health for our children. We want a community that we feel part of. The community has anchored Northeast Florida residents for many years. And with my poem I hoped to put the listener in touch with what that means. The place became the poem.

It wasn’t hard to love Mandarin. It was very hard to express that in a poem that wouldn’t be trashed by academics. I hope I succeeded. I’ll know tomorrow, after reading it during the dedication.

The public is invited to the Billard Park and Veterans Memorial dedication ceremony Wednesday, November 14, at 4 p.m. at the park located at 11641 Brady Road in Jacksonville.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Hearing master poets a sheer pleasure at Jacksonville’s Southeast Library

Sunset over the St. John's River.

Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of reading poetry with some of Jacksonville’s finest writers. The library’s Southeast Branch organized the “Meet the Poets” event, with Michael Platzer coordinating for the library. A driving force behind the event was Florida poet Bonny Barry Sanders (Touching Shadows, 2005) who helped assemble the poets and publicize the event.

We had great attendance. Part of the reason I think involved the sheer number of participating poets, 9 in all, each of us with a different voice and different approach to style. The whole evening was pleasurable, but some phrases and poems stuck in my mind. Sanders had a poem about wood smoke, comparing it to the scent of cinnamon. Dr. Charles Feldstein had a line where he juxtaposed the cage and the canary motif. Jean Shepherd in one of her poems likened walking into a rain forest to walking into a fig. Dorothy Fletcher (Zen Fishing and Other Southern Pleasures, 2005) took a unique approach. All the poems she read started with the letter, “L”, including one poem about a beauty queen descending on Florida from the Midwest. Michele Leavitt read a wonderfully constructed sonnet. And those are just the parts that come to the forefront of my brain—all the poets presented interesting work.

I read poems from my new collection Notes from a Florida Village, including an aubade I wrote for my husband.

As I sat there listening, I thought how this same scene might have played out in ancient times, only instead of sitting at a table with a mic, and sipping mini-bottles of water, our ancient bards would’ve been grouped around a fire, with drums thumping an undertone as the stories were told. Last night was like a gathering of the tribes. It was amazing to witness the talent in that room. The whole audience stayed; no one left early.

That tells you the poets were doing something right. And kudos to Michael Platzer for utilizing talent close to home as a poetry resource.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Steven Ratiner’s book a window into the soul of poets like Donald Hall

I recently had the pleasure of doing an interview with former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall for The Writer. In the preliminary stages of setting up my questions, I searched for books and articles about Hall, who happens to be one of my favorite writers. I came across the book ‘Giving Their Word, Conversations with Contemporary Poets,’ by Steven Ratiner. In addition to interviews with Hall, Ratiner includes interviews with Mary Oliver, Charles Simic, Seamus Heaney, Marge Piercy and a number of other poets. Ratiner’s methods of questioning enable the reader to feel as though you’re sitting on a sofa watching an incredible conversation take place.

I’ve added this book to a small list of works I recommend to aspiring writers. Although the focus is on poetry and poetics, the insight inherent in each article is applicable to good writing in general. One of my favorite responses came from poet Mary Oliver. Ratiner asked her about a person who may be a “pivotal figure” a writer remembers.
“No,” Oliver responded, “I truly feel that the pivotal moments for me were reading poems. I can remember the original excitement when I read poems and thought, my goodness, these are not chronological—these do not happen on Wednesday and finish on Thursday. These happen over and over…And I want to do this too.”

Oliver says she didn’t even publish until her late 20s.

I’d highly recommend this book for writers at all levels. It’s perfect for teaching creative writing in the classroom. Ratiner seems to know exactly what to ask these accomplished writers in order to elicit the best, most helpful responses. The answers aren’t just great; the questions are as well.

Note: Read my interview with Donald Hall in the December issue of The Writer.

Join me and other poets including Bonny Barry Sanders, Dr. Sharon Scholl, Michele Leavitt and others for "Meet the Poets" at the Jacksonville Public Library, Southeast Regional branch in Deerwood Park on Tuesday, November 6, at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

FCCJ’s International Education Week in November to feature poetry readings from acclaimed writers

Florida Community College’s Downtown Campus will host two acclaimed writers during International Education Week this November.

In celebration of International Education Week, the Downtown Campus of Florida Community College at Jacksonville will host Celia Lisset Alvarez and Marisella Veiga on November 19, 2007. Both writers will read selections from their works. A reception and book signing will follow the readings. The event is free and open to the public.

Ms. Alvarez is an award-winning poet, the author of two poetry chapbooks (Shapeshifting, Spire Press, 2006 and The Stones, Finishing Line Press, 2006) and an educator. She resides in Miami where she is Interim Director of the St. Thomas University Writing Center in Miami. Ms. Alvarez has held teaching positions at several Florida institutions including St. Thomas University, the University of Miami, Miami-Dade College and Florida International University. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been widely published and anthologized. Her reading will begin at 8PM.

Ms. Veiga’s writing includes news reporting, short fiction and poetry. She has written on a freelance basis for the past six years for clients such as the Washington Post, Hispanic Link News Service, Women’s Independent Press and Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education. Ms. Veiga’s writing has been recognized with several honors including a Pushcart Prize Special Mention in Short Fiction (1996) and the Evelyn La Pierre Award for Journalism (2004). She has taught at Georgetown University and other colleges in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. She will read from her work beginning at 7PM.

Historically known as the “International” campus for its large multicultural student body, FCCJ’s Downtown Campus will celebrate International Education Week with a number of fun and educational events in concert with activities held at the College’s other campuses. The guest poets’ reading will climax the celebration of International Education Week.

FCCJ’s Downtown Campus is located at 101 West State Street in Downtown Jacksonville. The campus has been undergoing modernizations and the event will occur in the newly-renovated Auditorium on the First Floor.

The appearance of the two poets is made possible through an FCCJ Learning Communities Mini Grant.
(from FCCJ news release)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

FSU prof David Kirby's book nominated for National Book Award

It’s about time poet David Kirby receives the attention he’s due. The professor teaches at Florida State University, with specialties in poetry and 19th century U.S. literature. We were delighted to see his inclusion as a finalist in poetry for the 2007 National Book Awards for 'The House on Boulevard St.'

Months ago, I was link hopping poetry sites on the Web, and I came across the Florida page at the Academy of American Poets. Kirby happens to be one of my favorites. When I saw his name wasn’t listed, I emailed to ask how the poets are selected. I received an unmemorable response. I suppose it’s a system of shared aesthetics, maybe? And politics, maybe? Poetry is rife with that. To prove my point, on that same Florida page, no mention is made of FSU’s Creative Writing Program, viewed by any number of poets and writers as one of the best in the nation. Then again, AAP isn’t the end-all for American poetry; it’s one of many organizations dedicated to the genre. Since the awards announcement, it is my sincere hope the AAP page will receive a quick enlightened edit. Kirby is included in other pages at the organization site, just not on the Florida page where you’d think he’d be up front and center.

I’ve pitched a Kirby article to some of my freelance clients, and I still have hopes I’ll get to write about him. Maybe now I will.

So we’re sending this fellow, whom we’ve never met personally but did view personally at a poetry do in Tallahassee and whose poetry we have often enjoyed, our sincere congratulations. He deserves to win the award, but there again, this is poetry and the genre has never and will never be a meritocracy. I’d say American poetry at the moment comes closest to being an oligarchy.

Read one of Kirby's poems, "Ode to Myself as a Rough Draft" at the Southeast Review, an FSU publication.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Christopher Hitchens offers lively defense of his subtitle: ‘How Religion Poisons Everything’


The Authors@Google® series is one more in a long line of pleasures from the company that began by offering a better way to search. Christopher Hitchens spoke in August at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California. He set out to defend the subtitle of his book, ‘God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.’ Hitchens employs his characteristic razor-sharp wit and intellect with statements like, “Religion is a distillation of the wish to be a slave.” He posits the theory of a deity watching over you from the moment of birth, and “when you’re dead,” he says, “the real fun begins.”

Hitchens is one of my favorite authors; he is never dull and always makes me think. I may disagree with him about a number of issues, but he always pleases my intellect. He brought up the idea of his ancestors traveling to a holy place, before they believed in God, or at least the God Christians, Jews and Muslims worship. There’s a small bump there because I think mankind has always looked to some deity, if for nothing else as a mean to explain creation or solicit a better harvest. For Hitchens, Science is God (the cap on S is deliberate) and I always find that a wee bit troublesome, because science, from century to century, often contradicts its own manifestos, just as religion has done. Unless we live under a large rock, we know about the Big Bang theory. Science has yet to explain where matter and explosions came from to begin with; some might say religion bears the same burden.

Nevertheless, Hitchens makes excellent points and will surely set the mind on a journey. He will amaze anyone interested in the craft of writing, for in that last regard, no one can top him in my opinion.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Another Anna Nicole Smith lawsuit, only this time an author’s going to court

Howard K. Stern wants $60 million, alleging journalist Rita Cosby and her publisher are guilty of false and defamatory accusations against Stern. Cosby’s book,Blond Ambition, says the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in a story on Tuesday, figures in the lawsuit because the book alleges Stern committed, “among other things, criminal lewd acts, homosexual acts, illegal possession and use of cocaine, conspiring to commit murder and kidnapping for ransom.” Furthermore, a John or Jane Doe also was named as a defendant. Stern has had a busy time since Smith’s death, what with trying to prove he fathered a baby he didn’t father.

There is supreme irony in this partial statement, “defendants” referring to the author and publisher: “Defendants have exploited Ms. Smith's life and death…”

Whatever the outcome, the lawsuit will continue the media circus that was Smith’s life before and after her death. I covered the aftermath of Smith’s death in The Sunshine State at my news site, Covering Florida.

I predict the legal battle will be drawn out—Rita Cosby isn’t a naïve journalist. Here’s a snapshot of her credentials, taken from her author bio at
...interview with Slobodan Milosevic while he was imprisoned at The Hague; an exclusive interview with Yasser Arafat when his compound was under siege; she was the first journalist to see the suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo and witness an actual interrogation; and a rare, private meeting with Pope John Paul II after receiving an exclusive letter from Timothy McVeigh explaining why he carried out the Oklahoma City bombing. Having interviewed more than a dozen world leaders and four US Presidents, she also made headlines for her interviews with Michael Jackson, David Berkowitz and Dr. Jack Kevorkian. She has been a featured guest on hundreds of television and radio shows worldwide and earned her two bachelors' degrees from the University of South Carolina.

If Cosby is as careful as most investigative journalists, she’s covered herself by documenting her claims.

Either way, this latest lawsuit in the publishing world will certainly be fodder for pundits, columnists and tea party-goers.

I purchased the book this morning; I’ll give you my opinion once I’ve read it.

Read my latest Web Savvy column at The Writer magazine--Writing for Web Sites that Pay. (premium content)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tampa Review Poetry Prize—get those poems shined up

In Monday’s mail, a contest announcement arrived. The Tampa Review invites poets to submit manuscripts for the annual Tampa Review Poetry Prize. I’ve researched the contest and feel comfortable sharing the news with my readers. The fee is reasonable--$20. The prize is worthwhile—hardcover book publication, $1,000 in prize monies and selected poems published in the Tampa Review. This is one of the few contests I haven’t seen criticized by poetry insiders, so shine up your poems.

Steve Kowit won the 2006 prize for his collection ‘The First Noble Truth.’ Kowit is a poet whose work engages the reader because (1)the work is accessible and (2)emotion is always evoked. His book ‘In the Palm of Your Hand’ is a handbook I frequently recommend to poets when I speak and read. Kowit is also the very best workshop presenter I have ever encountered.

Read guidelines and get full information by visiting the Web page about the Tampa Review Prize. Deadline is December 31.

I’m tempted to enter it myself; I can’t seem to shake the lead out when it comes to submitting poetry. Conversely, I can’t seem to stop writing it. I think we poets are completely muddle-headed.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Cruelty to animals a pet cause (pun intended)

I agreed to join other members of the Blog Catalog community in writing an advocacy column today. Members are participating in an effort called “Against Abuse.” Each of us could select our own good cause. I chose advocacy for animals. Some of the stories I found are sickening.

Last week the Humane Society of the United States posted a news release about the death of a carriage horse in New York. The release noted, “The horse became spooked, broke free from its carriage, and ran into a tree sustaining fatal injuries. Carriage drivers blame a nearby street performance, which included drums, for causing the horse to become frightened and bolt. This is only one of several such incidents over the past few years.”

The city is addressing the problem, but it’s hard to understand how you can prevent problems when you have carriage horses in an area as congested as New York City. The release further noted, “Earlier this month, City Comptroller William Thompson released an audit of the agencies that regulate the city's carriage horses. The report showed that the horses live and work in inhumane conditions. They do not receive adequate shade or water and the agencies did not maintain required inspections and veterinary check ups.”

The sad fact is this is not the worst example of abuse. Whether someone is confining an exotic pet then setting it loose when the pet becomes too much trouble or engaging in dogfighting as in the case of Michael Vick, America like other countries has examples of abuse in abundance. Many of the examples are horrible. A puppy shot, wrapped in a blanket and tossed, still alive, into a dumpster. A horse mutilated with a machete, his front left shoulder nearly severed. What quality provokes a human being into harming the vulnerable?

The Humane Society says, “Cruelty to animals is strongly linked to interpersonal violence, including domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and murder. Nearly half of convicted sexual homicide perpetrators in a 1988 study admitted to abusing animals as adolescents.”

The Humane Society provides a wealth of information on the organization’s Web site. Visit the site and watch some of the videos that show animals rescued from dire circumstances. It’s a good lesson in the worst and the best of mankind.

(graphic courtesy of Blog Catalog)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Finding the book in you

So I had a meeting with an agent. I pitched a nonfiction book. The agent was positive about the idea. He asked for a proposal and gave me his card.

So I tried. But I couldn’t see the book in my head. And I couldn’t figure out what to do. I wrote about 100 pages. And I still couldn’t see the book in my head. So I dropped it.

I didn’t do the proposal. And of course I worried because I needed to come up with another idea. The agent is pretty high profile.

So then last week I’m doing an interview for a news story. Bam! I run head-on into the book I want to do. I started it and I could probably finish it in a week if I didn’t have a life otherwise. I connected with the passion that will enable me to do the actual writing--the endless hours of tapping the keys, revising, reworking and polishing. You gotta' love your subject, that's all there is to it.

Sometimes you just have to let the book find you—I think it’s a lot like falling in love. Look for it and it will never happen. Turn your back and forget about it and there it is.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Reality writer--what the writing biz is like

The video says it all.

Only thing I can add is thank God for the good editors I have--you know who you are.

Thanks to a fellow ASJA member for sharing this link.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Who loves ya, blogger? Here are my top referrers.

It can be so frustrating, this blogging habit. You pour your words onto the screen, diligently post, and sit there wondering who will read it. If readers loved me like my hound dog, I'd be writing on easy street.

My Creative Writer US blog seems to be at a plateau—maybe because there are so many writing blogs. I get thousands of unique visitors at Covering Florida each month. At Creative Writer US, I get 25 percent of the traffic I get at CF.

Covering Florida continues to grow in an amazing way, with increasing traffic in uniques and in page views each week. I post there daily, sometimes two or three times if there's breaking news, as I used to do here. But because I have to place my time where it counts, I dropped posting here to 3 times a week.

I do know who sends me readers—I have basic statistics on those. So here are my top 5 referrers for both blogs:

1. Google®—runaway tops, no contest (I still love Google, I admit it.)
2. Blog Catalog
3. BlogHer
4. Technorati
5. Various message boards, where people talk about what I write and post a link—these are diverse and no one stands above the other. Note: I don’t post on these boards.

I write the Creative Writer US blog because I love to write about my profession and it’s a means of sometimes writing about an author I wouldn’t get to write about otherwise. Book reviews and book publications are a very small market, one I can’t really afford to chase.

Here’s a “perplexion” (I know I made that word up)—both blogs have the same Google page rank, but CW US is ranked higher at Technorati. Go figure.

I’ve written about it before, but I’ll point it out again. The single most useful book I’ve found about blogging is J. S. McDougall’s ‘Start Your Own Blogging Business.’ What I learned from reading the book really helped boost my numbers at Covering Florida.

I will say blogging really lets me write what I want to instead of what I contract to write. That's a nice creative release in itself. And I know, from email and comments, that sometimes what I write helps others. That's always a good thing.

(©KayBDay/2007; all rights reserved)

Monday, September 17, 2007

The wild wild Web, where copyright is becoming an oft-repeated word

I read a post at a discussion forum—the author found a Web site had copied her content verbatim. She contacted the owner of the site, who basically told her to shove it—there was nothing she could do. The site owner did remove the content, however. In August, I wrote a column about a lawsuit filed by an author who took issue with a bad review of his book. The reviewer didn’t just bash the book; illustrations from the work were reproduced. The author had provided the book, so the case isn’t black and white.

In a perfect world, no one would lift your content without asking. But people do. One reason I added the ‘Copyscape’ banner to both my sites involves providing notice that I do check for copied content. Copyscape works beautifully to this end.

Technically, you don’t have to officially register a work to protect it. The U.S. Copyright Office Web site notes:
No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. (See following note.) There are, however, certain definite advantages to registration.

Here’s the note referenced above:
Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is “created” when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time.

It is a good idea when you post to your blog or Web site to add a copyright notice, and it’s an even better idea to file the forms to protect your work.

And if you have your eye on sharp content written by another, ask before you lift. Chances are if you run a quality site, you’ll receive permission unless you’re asking a large commercial concern. And always, if you’re given permission, be mannerly and include a link to the site where the work was first featured.

There’s an excellent site explaining the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, organized by the Association of Research Libraries. This government act offers some protection for your Web content, and restricts use of your content to fair use guidelines, including the amount of content in relation to the whole work. Fine to lift a line or two when you’re reviewing a book or poem. Not so fine to lift the whole item.

Meanwhile, you can drop your URL in at Copyscape to see if your work is being used without your knowledge.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Frey owns up to this fiction: HarperCollins to publish ‘Bright Shiny Morning’

After imploding his career—profitably—with his alleged memoir, ‘A Million Little Pieces,’ James Frey continues his—profitable—success with the sale of his novel to HarperCollins. The book is scheduled for publication in summer, 2008. Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher at HC, said in a corporate news release, “James Frey is an immensely talented writer who has written a truly extraordinary and original novel, one of great breadth and ambition.” Gosh—sounds just like his first “novel” packaged as a memoir, doesn’t it?

American publishing knows no boundaries when it comes to making money. Remember Clifford Irving—faker of the Howard Hughes biography in 1971? Irving actually did time in a federal prison for his scam. Frey gets a new book deal and praise from his publisher.

The saddest thing about Clifford Irving is what makeup artists did to Richard Gere when filming the movie about Irving, ‘The Hoax.’ I literally could not even look at Gere, made up so poorly he brought to mind the image of Alfred E. Neuman of Mad magazine fame.

Well, we all have our ups and downs, I suppose. Can you fathom musings about my own success? What if I were to claim my next book has just been acquired by a mega-publisher who wined and dined me recently in New York, offering a $2 million advance for my brilliance in penning an account of my life as personal poet to Diana, Princess of Wales. I might tell you I include stories of our teatimes together. I might conjure how we shared everything —finger sandwiches, Earl Grey tea (loose leaf, of course) and even Prince Charles. And how when Di wanted a poem, I composed one on the spot. “Formal or free?” I’d ask—“a sonnet, perhaps?”

I confess she preferred free. I think I’ll use the pen name Jamie Frey for my “memoir.” Nonfiction, they say, is a great way to break out on the best-seller list, even if your book is as we say on the street, a pack of lies.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Facebook poem--because you asked

A poetry group I belong to at Facebook came up with a contest. Write a poem beginning with 'Face' and ending in 'Book.' I did that, but my poem is too long for the contest guidelines. I mentioned I'd written one, here at my blog and on Facebook. Well, that spurred curiosity. People have visited this blog in hopes of finding the poem, according to the keywords showing on search inquiries. Others have asked me by email and in person, "Where's the poem?" I usually don't place a poem on my blog unless it's been published. But this time, to make a few people happy, I'm sharing the poem here with you. It'll be part of my forthcoming collection, 'Notes from a Florida Village.' And naturally, it will be revised several more times because I have a red pen and my fingers itch.

Facebook, Wall to Wall

Face love like war, daughter,
and gird your vitals with more than simple trust.
There’s much to be gained by watching dogs—the male
shows, snared by scent, then mounts and goes his addled way.
The female receives, often willingly, and once she’s done
needs only her litter, and those for only a little while. Dogs,
you see, have mastered the artifices of love, and it worked
because we have lots of them lifting a leg on corner hydrants,
barking at the moon and waking neighbors, chasing cats
and overturning trash or perhaps stealing a sandwich
right off your lunch table. There’s no love war between dogs.

But here’s the truth. With men, there’s war aplenty,
even when you’re skirmishing with the best of them.
And if you’re not doing battle with the best, walk away
like a warrior sated, do your nails or climb a mountain.
Open a bottle of wine, read some poems and close the book.

—Kay B. Day/copyright Kay B. Day, all rights reserved.
From the forthcoming collection, ‘Notes from a Florida Village’

Monday, September 10, 2007

Author Cheryl Snell hits home run with manuscripts—twice

Visit links noted below to learn more about Snell's work.

Most authors are glad to get a contract for one book. Cheryl Snell can celebrate getting two, and one of those contracts is a double deal, so technically, she hit three home runs.

Snell says it was hard to find a publisher for her novel ‘Shiva’s Arms.’ In an email interview, she wrote, “It took awhile. The first publisher I sent the manuscript to accepted it, but wanted me to cover half the cost of publication. It was a reputable company, as it turns out, but I thought co-publishing was the same as working with a vanity press, so I passed. The next company went belly-up before the book could even be edited. The third time was the charm however (cliché or not), and Writer’s Lair Books offered me a two book deal.” The novel wasn’t her only charm. Pudding House Publications, a well-regarded publisher of poetry chapbooks, picked up Snell’s manuscript, ‘Samsara.’

Right now, Snell is planning author events, hoping to reach out to readers in different ways.

“An online campaign is one way to cast a wider net,” she says, offering other authors a tip for a good resource. “Felicia Sullivan, the editor of Small Spiral Notebook, has a good online marketing how-to at her site. She has a suggestion or two about using video. I noticed that Out of the Book Films recently sent a thirty minute video of Ian McEwan’s book around to bookstores, and caused a bit of a stir. An authorless author event could supplement the traditional readings nicely, I think. And, of course, I like the idea of a blog book tour.”

Asked what inspired her novel, Snell points to geography. “It began as an effort to record my husband’s stories about growing up in Bombay. Pardon me, Mumbai. We’d been talking about the nature of nostalgia—I swear! But as soon as I put pen to paper, my characters began to run amok, to take on a separate reality. I was dragged along in their service. Didn’t Flannery O’Connor remind us that the novel is an art form, and when you use it for anything other than art, you pervert it? The novel’s set-up—American girl marries into a traditional Brahmin family—is drawn from my life, but I am not Alice, although I know her very well.”

Her successes will bring demands aplenty, but Snell doesn’t foresee obstacles to her writing. “I’m pretty rhythmical in my work habits. I always say that if inspiration wants to find me, I’ll be at my desk from 9 a.m. to noon. Well, O’Connor might have said it first.”

Learn more about Cheryl Snell’s books and her work at these sites:
Blog for Snell’s novel, ‘Shiva’s Arms.’
Publisher site, Writer’s Lair Books, for Snell’s novel, ‘Shiva’s Arms.’
Publisher site, Pudding House Publications, for Snell’s poetry collection, ‘Samsara.’
Literary site for Alsop Review, where Snell is book reviews editor.

Please visit Covering Florida for our essay about Patriot Day, in honor of those who died at the World Trade Center September 11, 2001.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Is Big Biz manipulating you on the Web? Meet Digby, figurative sister to LonelyGirl15

Marié Digby came across as a budding musician, naïve in the ways of the music world. Her apparently ‘homespun’ performances have been viewed more than 2.3 million times on YouTube, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Imagine all those other budding musicians who, hearts full of goodwill, cheered Digby’s success in signing with a major record label. Imagine all those same budding musicians’ emotional responses when they learned Digby’s innocence was carefully marketed. She actually signed with Hollywood Records in 2005. Echoes of LonelyGirl15 should be sounding in your psyche right about now.

It should come as no surprise that the Web, considered for so long by writers, artists, musicians and others as a frontier where all have an equal playing field, is being utilized as a resource by big business. It was only a matter of time. I listened to a publishing agent at a conference recently as he described the use of MySpace and viral emails to promote a forthcoming title. And there’ve been many articles about writers reviewing their own titles, under a pseudonym of course, on sites like

Most of us like to think the person we read about or admire is exactly who we believe him or her to be. Truth is, in life as on the Web, that may not always be the case. The best tactic is to think for yourself rather than buying into talent just because others have. A certain bias is created in group adulation, and it works in favor of the person seeking your admiration. Sites like YouTube and MySpace are an advertiser’s dream—a low budget path to big budget profit. It should come as no surprise that big commercial outfits, just like those of us in our own small corners on the Web, have come to see the light.

As for Digby, she makes me think of Britney Spears for some reason.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Kim Addonizio’s new novel makes a gritty world shine

Kim Addonizio’s work first engaged me when I read her poems. There are gems in her collections, poems that just stop you cold. Poems like “Therapy,” “The Divorcee and Gin” and “Mermaid Song” should become classics—they’re like a favorite song replayed, instantly winging into your world like exotic little birds catching your eye. Her new novel My Dreams Out in the Street: A Novel is equally engaging.

The book is one part mystery, one part love story and one part epic. Addonizio creates a character we might bump into on the street—Rita Jackson. Rita is down on her luck, a scavenger, a survivor. At 13, she witnessed the murder of her mother and as a young woman, her husband disappeared. She moves from shelters to corners in public parks to seedy hotels to a married man’s bed, perpetually homeless and confidently desperate. She’s always looking for Jimmy, and she’s always on edge. Addonizio gets into Rita’s head with passages like the following:
Now anxiety was with her all the time, even when she got drunk; when she slept, her dreams were full of vague problems she worried over, trying to fix whatever it was, not able to figure out what was wrong. Her dreams were inhabited by specters. Or wolves. They looked like dogs but they were wild. She would be running from them, and then come up against the dread certainty that there was something worse up ahead, and she’d stop cold in her tracks, and the fear would drill into her.

Rita’s journey yields encounters with others who are homeless, with cops, detectives, and managers who run flea-bitten hotels. She is an empathetic character, but one we are constantly shaking our head over as well. Her redemption lies in finding Jimmy, her husband whom she still loves, and in solving the riddle of why, after a nasty argument, he didn’t come back to her. Running parallel to Rita’s story is Jimmy’s story, and we slip into his thoughts as he remembers the wife he left. Whether the two will meet again, coupled with the way Rita and Jimmy feed off one another despite their separation, is the mystery that keeps the reader turning the page. Add in a sub-plot involving Rita witnessing a murder and fleeing thugs, and the tension just gets tighter.

Addonizio’s latest novel is a binge read of a book; close the covers and you miss Rita, her shortcomings and virtues all rolled into one. The book deserves a wide audience—here’s hoping it achieves widespread success long overdue this talented author.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Yes, Virginia, there’s a place for you on Facebook even if you’re over 40

Last week I was on the phone, talking business with a meeting organizer. She’s younger than me. When I told her I had a Facebook page, she giggled. I told her age doesn't mean much to me. I forget how old I am; most days I have more energy than I did at 20 because I don’t keep the late (often rowdy) hours I did then.

My older daughter, a grad student at a Florida university, actually talked me into doing the Facebook page. I’ve already had lots of fun (her friends have become mine in many cases), but I’ve also discovered two interesting poetry groups, a magazine group, an animal lovers' group, and linked up to several other freelance writers. There's even an over 40 Facebook group. A daily newspaper reporter did an interview with me about my Facebook experience, and the story was in the business section Monday.

Major publishers use social networks to promote their book titles ahead of the title’s release date. Journalists like me use social networks to glean quotes for articles, to dig up stories, and to stay on top of trends. When my new book comes out, my page will be the first place I announce the release. I’ve already turned up two stories I’ll write, based on my interaction within this social network. I also post links to stories I've written for magazines, Web sites and newspapers.

I wrote an earlier article here at Creative Writer US about a poem inspired by my Facebook experience.

I’ve received virtual plants that grow and bloom over a period of several days, and friends have gifted me cyber-beers and a cup of coffee.

So even if you’re over 40, you can still have fun and benefit professionally by using social networks like Facebook.

Related links:

Florida Times-Union story by J. Elliott Walker about Facebook

Creative Writer US column about Facebook poem

My article at The Writer, ‘Networking with Other Writers’, for my column ‘Web Savvy’

Friday, August 31, 2007

Brave enough to diss Oprah’s fame, funny enough to grace a Starbucks® cup: meet Judy Gruen

Read a message from author Judy Gruen and smiles are inevitable. “Can’t decide whether to stay friends with a size two woman who won’t eat a carrot because of its high-carb content?” she wrote. Gruen’s keen sense of humor is making her latest book, ‘The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement,’ increasingly popular. Her wit has also earned one of her quips a spot on 5 million Starbucks® cups. How did this author manage to succeed at publishing humor, arguably the most difficult category of writing? Part of the reason may lie in her genes.

“I’m fairly certain I inherited my paternal grandfather’s sense of humor,” she says. “He loved nothing more than to make people laugh, to tell jokes, and play practical jokes on people—though I don’t put antacids on the table in homes where I’ve been invited for dinner.”

As a young child Gruen could always make her family laugh by imitating Kathryn Kuhlman, one of the early televangelists who claimed to heal the lame and cure the blind. Gruen recalls, “Kathryn and the newly healed would laugh and cry and walk together, shouting “Hallelujah!”

Gruen says she also “did a pretty good Nixon, at least for a 10-year-old.” She says her impression of the beleaguered president “cracked up my Mom in particular.” But then, says the lively author, “As my mother, she was obliged to laugh.”

Years later, Gruen began to write freelance essays—“funny ones.” She says she sold them, much to her delight. “I had no idea what a tricky path I was setting for myself at the time. I just wrote what struck me as most compelling and worthy of satirizing.”

Her humor often stemmed from topical items in the news. “I still think the funniest things I’ve ever written were more reporting than anything else. You just can’t make up stuff as hilarious as educators banning “tag” and Paris Hilton brandishing a Bible (upside down) to display her remorse over having to write the word “socialite” on a resume.”

She is serious about her humor, at least from a crafting standpoint. “I still want to improve the quality of my work all the time; I never tire of setting a goal of making my next column better than the last. It’s the most fun challenge I know of, much more fun than dieting.”

Gruen has sometimes touched a nerve with fans of those she writes about. She wrote an essay called “Oprah’s Memo to God.” That notorious essay is in her new book.

“I skewered her vast fame and influence,” Gruen says of the daytime diva. “I thought my computer would nearly burn up from the livid emails I received from Oprah fans, MANY OF WHICH WERE WRITTEN IN CAPITAL LETTERS SO I REALIZED HOW UNFUNNY I REALLY WAS.”

An award-winning author of three books, Gruen has published widely in magazines and newspapers like Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Day, the Chicago Tribune, Family Circle and the Los Angeles Times. She writes a popular column ‘Off my Noodle.’

A veteran speaker at venues like the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Gruen will speak at American Jewish University in Los Angeles on Sunday, November 11. Those who attend are guaranteed many smiles from the lady famous for quips like, “A woman’s home is her hassle.”