Thursday, October 28, 2010

Q&A with author David Poyer

Hi, David. Thanks for joining us for a Q&A. You've received some very nice early praise for your November release, Ghosting. Congratulations! Can you tell us a bit about your main character, Dr. Jack Scales, and his story?
Well, Lori, Jack has a lot to do with some real surgeons I've come in contact with! Not to say all surgeons are like this - some are regular people, among them the ones who helped me with this book - but others seem to feel that since they can do one difficult thing well, they're qualified to do just about anything else with no necessity for learning or training whatsoever. This sometimes arrives mixed with not a little arrogance. So I searched for what natural arrogance I own, mixed it with my observations, and came out with Jack. A guy who means well and loves his family, who is ambitious and hardworking and very competent in one area, neurosurgery, but who has some very unlovable traits - which end up carrying a heavy price, both for him, his wife, his son, and his daughter, when he's put to the test.

Ghosting is quite different from your Dan Lenson thrillers. What drew you to this particular story?
This happens very seldom, but the idea of a sailing thriller was suggested to me by someone else - in this case Sally Richardson and George Witte at St. Martin's. I guess I'd mentioned my sailing to them over the years enough times that when I said I wanted to do a shorter book than the Lensons, to gain a little respite for additional research on the next big one, they said, "Why not do a sailing book?" I respect them enough that instead of dismissing the idea out of hand, which I usually do with plot suggestions from others, I went away and thought about it. I did know that this time I wanted to try all new characters, in fact a whole family, to write about family dynamics, which I had never done before. And once the ideas of arrogance and pride and a family in danger tied in with one of my perennial topics - the need for competence at sea - GHOSTING began to take shape. When I added a few of my own most harrowing sailing experiences, like the lightning storm, the outline was practically complete. (The lightning storm and strike depicted in the book actually took place off Cape Hatteras about three years ago - I had to change very little about it!)

You admit to being in a bad mood when you had to kill off some "good" characters from Ghosting. How attached do you get to your characters in draft form? How does this affect your editing process?
Oh, I get very attached! I would not make a good Buddhist. So when bad things started to happen to Arlen and Jack and Haley and Ric, and some terrible things indeed do, it wrecked me. As if they were my own family. It made it hard to edit, yes, but after thirty plus novels, there's enough professional detachment from the prose after the first draft's white heat that I can view a passage dispassionately, and turn it into finished work.

Is Ghosting planned as a stand-alone title or will you be developing Scales' story into a series?
This is definitely a one-off. However, I'm discussing another sailing novel with St. Martin's now. It will really depend on how many fans buy GHOSTING. So if you want to see more, buy this one - for yourself, or as a holiday gift for someone you know who loves boating and the sea!

Is Dan Lenson's series to be continued? What can readers look forward to since The Crisis, your December 2009 release?
I've just completed the first draft of a huge 9/11 novel, tentatively titled THE TOWERS, that will be published in August 2011. When I started to think about a 9/11 book, I realized that each of my major continuing Modern Navy characters - Dan, Blair, Aisha, and Teddy - might well have been in a location that would directly involve them in the shocking events of those days. So it begins at the Pentagon and in New York, and goes from there to Oman and then Afghanistan.

What else are you up to in your writing life? How has this year been for you in the Wilkes University MFA program where you teach?
I have some great students at the low-residency program at Wilkes. We are now the largest low-res writing program in the US! And it's due to our stellar faculty and administration. My current students are writing supernatural stories, ecothrillers, horror, high fantasy, sea novels, and middle grade fiction. One of my recent grads, Kevin Voglino, was nominated for the Lambda Prize. I don't think there's a better way to get started for someone who hopes to write. You work one on one with an established author, from planning the book through to final text and marketing. I wish such a program had been around when I was starting, in the 1970's - it would have saved me years of false starts and wasted effort. In today's market, you just can't afford not to know what you're doing. There's no way anymore to learn on the job. You have to be perfect the moment you step out on the field.

Do you have any upcoming appearances you care to mention?
I don't do that many; the ones coming up are listed on my website. I'm a big supporter of rural libraries, so many of my appearances are there, including the Chesapeake Public Library on Nov. 12. I'll be at the Mariner's Museum early next year discussing the Civil War at Sea books, and at Wilkes in January and June for residencies. I might go to the Savannah Book Festival with Lenore when THE RAVEN'S BRIDE comes out; she's been invited to headline there.

Where can readers learn more about your books, events, and other writing news?
Take a look at my site, There's more about GHOSTING and the other books as well, plus some good info on writing.

Many thanks to all my fans, and to you, Lori!


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dzanc needs you / upcoming Q&A

Check in on Thursday for a Q&A with author David Poyer, author of Ghosting.

In the meantime, please share this info with writing workshop instructors you know and love:

Dzanc Books is looking for volunteers to lead workshops as part of Dzanc Day 2011, the annual fundraiser that helps fund the more charitable parts of the press. Full info here:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Q&A with poet & publisher Tonja Bagwell

Today’s Q&A is with poet Tonja Bagwell. She is the curator for Poetic Travelers, a reading series hosted at Lawrence Street Gallery in Ferndale MI. Tonja is also the publisher of Jafansta, which you can read more about here.

How long have you been coordinating the Poetic Travelers reading series? What have been some of the highlights over the years?
In January 2009, I founded a poetry series that was named Poetic Tea Sippers because we met at a teashop in Ferndale. In April, I changed the name to Poetic Wine Sippers when I moved to a wine shop in Northville. In May, I moved back to Ferndale to Lawrence Street Gallery (LSG) under the new name of Poetic Travelers. As I pondered my travels and thought about how amusing (yet confusing) it was to tell features and followers that I had changed names and venues -- again, I was inspired to choose an appropriate name that would suffice in any city at any venue. Thus, Poetic Travelers was born and a new sense of adventure was instilled in poet friends who were excited by the thought of being a traveling poet.

Fortunately, LSG is a fabulous venue that gives the feel of traveling to a new venue. Each month the gallery showcases different art exhibits by its various members. A few of the artists at LSG have embraced Poetic Travelers by joining Open Mic, helping with marketing and set up, as well as hosting. The beauty of art combined with poetry makes Poetic Travelers and LSG a good match.

Poetic Travelers features poets and musicians who travel from various places throughout the southeast Michigan area. Open mic performers and guests have traveled from various counties in Michigan and from out-of-state. For two months last year and three months this year, I became the celebrated Poetic Traveler who gave significance to the name when I traveled eight hours by car to host Poetic Travelers.

Poetic Travelers welcomes and appreciates lyrical talents and creativity. If you have a unique and interesting way of expressing yourself through words or music, contact me. I don’t focus on how many books you have published, how many awards you have won, or how many venues you have been invited to read at when selecting features. During the same month, one feature may be a confident veteran who has done a multitude of readings and the other feature may be a nervous novice making their debut. I am pleased to say that the novice poets who began their poetry-reading career with Poetic Travelers have been traveling to some notable venues and have made a name for themselves.

During a few of my absences from hosting, a few select poet friends have graciously hosted Poetic Travelers. I am forever grateful and elated to have poet friends who are just as passionate as I am when it comes to making sure Poetic Travelers is a series where everyone can come and feel the joy of a compassionate host and supportive poetry family.

Who's on the Poetic Travelers schedule this fall/winter?
Earlier in October, we had John Jeffire, poet and author of Stone+Fist+Brick+Bone as a feature. Joining him was Monica Condiff, a fresh writer from Ohio, who made her performance debut with Poetic Travelers. John Smolinski, poet and author of We Fight to Remember (Jafansta, Inc., 2010) hosted.

In November, John Smolinski will host an interesting trio: Mark C. Durfee, poet and author of Stink: Poetry and Prose of Detroit; James R. Tomlinson, poet and author of Adopted Behaviors and Michelle Brooks, poet and author of the soon-to-be released collection, Make Yourself Small.

In December, Poetic Travelers is honored to feature award winning poet, musician and author of Moonwalking, David "Blair" Blair. Raven "CagedBird" Martin is the other featured poet and Laura Bodary, poet and author of Flock, Feed, Fly will host.

Poetic Travelers will begin its third year in 2011 and the schedule is TBA.

What's happening in the publishing world at Jafansta, Inc? Are there any new titles soon to make a debut?
Jafansta, Inc published We Fight to Remember  this year and next in line is i awoke... and fallen leaves to be released soon. There are other titles in the works, including a memoir and a self-help guide.

Can you tell us about the calls for submissions for the upcoming anthologies? What sort of work are you looking for? When will these anthologies be published?
Jafansta is accepting submissions of poetry, prose, essays, letters, songs, quotes, creative non-fiction, short narratives, and all forms of written creative expressions from the following populations: Substance Users/Abusers; Incarcerated (current & former); Homeless (current & former); and LGBT. All are welcome to submit if they are familiar with or have connections with members of these populations. The submissions are for an anthology series that will be entitled Step Into My Shoes. The purpose of the anthologies will be to provide a voice for misunderstood and ostracized populations in society. Their written word will convey a message to others with hopes that they will better understand the thoughts, feelings, and life from the perspective of a member of the selected population. Expressions can be serious or humorous. There is no fee and submissions are accepted from anywhere in the world. Each anthology will be published separately, so the release dates will vary. At this time, I can only estimate sometime in 2011. You may submit your work via e-mail and please write “poetry submission” in the subject line or via regular mail at Jafansta, Inc., 47448 Pontiac Trail, Ste. 144, Wixom, MI 48393. Please visit for more details.

What about your own poetry? Are you working on anything new?
Due to the fact that I wear the hats of mom, mental health counselor, writer, publisher, editor, massage therapist, and founder of a new online organization, Feminine Unity, I don't dedicate as much time to writing poetry as I would like to. However, I am continuously writing new poems whenever I can take advantage of inspirational moments. I have categorized many of my poems and I’m planning to publish them into four different collections. The questions I ask myself are: 1) when will I put the finishing touches on at least one collection? 2) which book will I publish first? and 3) whom will I consult with about publishing my books? I have never done a small chapbook, so I have been thinking of self-publishing one.


For more info about Jafansta and the calls for submissions, visit

Come back next week for a Q&A with David Poyer, author of Ghosting.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

R.I.P. Zaida May, 15yrs

R.I.P. Zaida May, 15yrs

My very best friend.
An excellent writing assistant.
The quirkiest cat I have ever known.
My sounding board for… everything.

You’ll be missed, remembered, and loved each day.

Sweet dreams, Zaida.
Thank you for the joy.
Thank you for the love.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

guest blog: Joe Ponepinto, On Criticism #2

Welcome to Part 2 of 2 guest blogs by Joe Ponepinto. Joe is a graduate of the MFA program at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, and is currently the Book Review Editor for the Los Angeles Review, a literary journal published by Red Hen Press in Southern California. Joe was a journalist, political speechwriter and business owner before turning to writing full time. He’s founder and president of the board of the Suburban Detroit Reading Series. His work has been published in journals including Vestal Review, Fifth Wednesday, Raven Chronicles and others. Joe blogs at

On Criticism, Part 2: "Learning to Take It"
By Joe Ponepinto

Having your work critiqued by a writers’ group is something like voluntarily submitting to an intervention. Everyone tells you they love you (or at least, your efforts), and then proceeds to list everything they think is wrong with you and how you need to change it. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but when you’re on the receiving end of a particularly rough critique session, it can seem this way.

As I said in the previous post, many writers act as though critiquing a story means they MUST find fault with it, and they spare no effort to see flaws in plot, point of view, tense, tone, theme … you name it, often forgetting to praise what they did like, or more importantly, to assess the author’s intentions and how well s/he carried them out.

I’ve seen many writers crushed as stories they believed were their best work were ripped to shreds. And I’ve seen many of those writers never return to their groups. I don’t have to imagine what they felt, because I experienced the same thing when I was much younger, and I didn’t write creatively again for years.

The usual response to any appeal to be positive in critiques is, “A writer has to have a thick skin,” or “If a person can’t take it, he has no business being a writer.” There’s some truth to those sayings, but remember that for most writers, the craft is very personal, and they have a tendency to take criticism aimed at the writing as attacks on their worth as a person.

Over the years, I’ve developed a few techniques for dealing with criticism. The goal of these is to put some perspective on the practice, so that it can be useful, without being harmful. Keeping these in mind helps me from viewing criticism as an attack on my ability to write.

1. Consider the Source: Who’s delivering the criticism? How much writing experience does this person have? Has s/he been published? Amateur status doesn’t invalidate criticism, but I’ve found that sometimes the most vociferous criticism comes from writers with the least publishing experience. The most experienced writers in a group usually restrict their comments to suggestions (rather than absolutes) about how to make the work better.

2. Does the criticism pertain to literary conventions, or is it based on the critic’s personal taste? Pay close attention to what’s being said. A bad critic will invoke personal opinion without using a source or examples from literature. A good critic will attempt to analyze the author’s craft in relation to his/her intention, as well as back up the opinion with outside references.

3. Inaccuracies in the Reading: When a critic brings up points in a story that are clearly inaccurate, such as character names or specific events, I tend to tune out the comments. This happens often when the reader disliked the subject, or the particular genre or style of the piece, and had to force him/herself to read the entire text, usually by skimming instead of reading closely. But reading closely to determine the author’s intent and ability to use craft is what critiquing is all about. A critique based on a bad reading is no critique at all. I’d actually prefer a critic to tell me s/he just couldn’t get into the story (although it was extremely well written, of course), and therefore will not offer a critique. I can handle readers disliking the style or subject—what I can’t stand is the sometimes mean-spirited critique that results from that.

4. What if the group’s criticism is divided? Occasionally members of a group will split as to whether an aspect of a story worked or not. Unless the people who didn’t like it have a strong rationale for change, I usually look at the plus side. If it worked for some people, it will work for others. Remember, no piece of writing will work for everyone, and it’s futile to try to make it that way.

5. A Preponderance of Feeling: But if a strong majority of the reviewers finds the same problem in a story, that’s when a writer should take the criticism seriously.

6. The Importance of Time in Accepting Criticism: Since I’m going to wait a few weeks or months before attempting the next draft of a story, it gives me time to let the criticism it’s received chip away at the wall of my writing subconscious. I admit (and you can probably tell from these tips) that I don’t yield to much criticism. But I find that over time, the more valid points of criticism linger, and refuse to be dismissed. By then, the protectiveness in which I encase my first drafts softens, and I’m more willing to accept the aspects of the story that need improvement.

For more great blogs and commentaries by Joe Ponepinto, be sure to visit his blog:

I’m pleased to share another guest blog next Thursday, with poet and publisher Tonja Bagwell. Tonja is the curator of the Poetic Travelers reading series at Lawrence Street Gallery in Ferndale MI and the publisher of Jafansta, Inc. Come by next week to hear Tonja discuss upcoming events and new releases.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thurs guest blog & Sat workshop

Just a quick reminder for those in SW Michigan – I’m leading a workshop this Saturday at Macomb Community College:

Social Media for Writers 
3 hours: Sat Oct 16th 10am-1pm
Course # 80333
$39 registration through MCC

Macomb Community College
South Campus
14500 E. 12 Mile Road
Warren MI 48088
View Campus Map 

Register by phone: 586-498-4000
Questions? Email me at


Be sure to drop by on Thursday, for guest blogger Joe Ponepinto. This is Part 2 of Joe’s essays on criticism, with Part 1 linked here. Visit Joe’s blog to see what else he has to say about writing and publishing:

See you Thursday!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

guest blog: Joe Ponepinto, On Criticism

Welcome to Part 1 of 2 guest blogs by Joe Ponepinto. Joe is a graduate of the MFA program at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, and is currently the Book Review Editor for the Los Angeles Review, a literary journal published by Red Hen Press in Southern California. Joe was a journalist, political speechwriter and business owner before turning to writing full time. He’s founder and president of the board of the Suburban Detroit Reading Series. His work has been published in journals including Vestal Review, Fifth Wednesday, Raven Chronicles and others. Joe Ponepinto blogs at

On Criticism
By Joe Ponepinto

If you are, like me, a member of a writers’ group, everything you write for potential publication is subject to criticism. That criticism can be categorized as professional (editors and agents), or well-intentioned amateur (your writers’ group), but in most cases it is fundamentally flawed. In fact, much of the criticism writers receive does more to keep them from writing than it does to encourage.

The biggest problem with some criticism is that it sets up a false relationship between the writer and the critic, in which the writing is being judged not on its merits, but by a different set of criteria.

In the case of professional critics, sometimes known as agents and editors, the criterion is simply, will it sell? This criticism is a business, and the profit motive must be acknowledged, and that motive influences the efforts of many writers. It tells them they must write in a certain style, or comply with the conventions of a particular genre in order to be published, and that being published is the only measure of success for a writer.

That belief also influences criticism from practiced amateurs, such as members of a writers’ group. But the real trouble with group criticism is that the relationship between the writer and the critic becomes unbalanced. The writer cedes power and authority to the critic. This can be dangerous for the writer, because most amateurs, when given an opportunity to criticize work, approach it from the viewpoint that they MUST find flaws in it. In some cases they attack manuscripts with the attitude that they will not only find defects, but also that those imperfections are all they will find. The very word “criticism” connotes negativity to many amateurs.

This doesn’t do much for the psyche of the writer, who not only has to endure the critique session, but then must cope with lingering doubts over the value of his/her efforts. Because those efforts usually come from the writer’s soul, and because writers, by nature, are particularly sensitive to criticism, the cumulative effect drives many would-be writers to close their laptops permanently.

The attitude of many amateur critics, that they must find only flaws in every work, is puzzling. There are many stories, which, if these critics had read them in a journal or book, would have been praised as works of art, and their supposed “flaws” would have been ignored because the published writer surely “knew what s/he was doing.”

So what I’m arguing for is that members of writers’ groups (or MFA classes or workshops, etc.) adopt a different approach. Get away from the stance of the authoritative, powerful critic and consider submissions for what they are—drafts of materials that could be published. Read stories as though they might appear in a book or journal. The reaction will then be more balanced and fair.

For myself, before I get into specific praise and criticisms, I try always to consider two main criteria. The first comes from a comment made by Henry James. He said, “The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel, without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interesting.” And that’s the only consideration he thought important. Face it, if the story is interesting, you’ll probably read it, despite whatever other shortcomings it might have.

My second criterion is also fairly simple, and builds on James’s: what is the writer trying to do, and is s/he doing it? That’s separate from the “interesting” consideration, since a writer can do a fantastic job of crafting a story and it might still fall flat because the subject is of no interest to some readers. Conversely, the premise may be wonderful, but the story doesn’t work because the writer hasn’t thought out the point or reason for the writing. This allows me to get into more specific comments that are geared towards helping the writer realize the goals of the work.

But always I try not to allow personal tastes to influence my comments. That’s not to say I haven’t in the past, or that I don’t when reading for personal knowledge or enjoyment. But when it comes to criticism, which I look at as a request for help in achieving a goal, I try to keep in mind what that writer’s goal actually is, and encouragement that the goal can be reached is as important as anything else I might say.

Joe's Part 2, "Learning To Take It," will appear on this blog Thursday, October 14.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

upcoming guest / submishmash Qs

Be sure to drop by on Thursday, for guest blogger Joe Ponepinto. Joe is the Book Review Editor for the Los Angeles Review, a literary journal published by Red Hen Press. His current novel, tentatively titled Who Will Cry for Paris?, is represented by Andrea Hurst Literary Management.

Joe will be sharing two blogs: this Thursday and next Thursday, Joe is sharing a few thoughts and tips for the workshop/critique experience. Part one is this week and then you’ll have to come on back next Thursday for Joe’s wrap-up. In the meantime, visit his blog to see what else he has to say about writing and publishing:

And now I have a question for the writers out there who regular submit and for editors who regularly receive submissions….

As a writer, I’m a big fan of submishmash. I love the ease of submitting material online and enjoy the occasional obsessive inquiry to see what my submission log looks like. I wonder, does most everyone agree that submishmash is complete genius? Have you, as an editor or author, had any less than stellar experiences?

I’m considering signing on for a publisher’s account with submishmash to handle the review submissions that come in for Poets’ Quarterly. This would not only decrease the storage of my email inbox, but most importantly – and why I am giving it serious consideration – it sounds like I can have multiple administrators log in to access the submissions. This certainly appeals to me, as I’d like to increase the editors/readers at PQ and think this is likely a nice solution for providing a central location in accessing submissions.

Any thoughts? Does anyone use submishmash for review submissions? Any pitfalls I should consider? I’d certainly welcome your comments by email,, if you’d rather not post to the blog. Thanks for sharing your experience.

By the way, I should also mention that if you are familiar with submishmash and love how easy it is to use AND have an interest in volunteering some time as an assistant editor, I’d love to hear from you. Just in case I do get the ball rolling with an online submissions manager, it’d be nice to know who might be interested in taking on a very part-time job (with admittedly little pay, but a whole lot of praise and a super cool title).

Remember to come back on Thursday for Joe Ponepinto’s take on criticism.