Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Jane Watson

What Makes Us So Alike Is What Makes Us Human . . .


I’m a writer—blogger, novelist, short story scrivener, non-fiction essayist, poet; and it’s that last one that can cause so many avid readers to cringe.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

Yet, due to the recommendation of my Best Friend, I’ve watched a video that does much more than show that “ordinary” folk can totally deal with poetry:

A film-maker set out to make a regional documentary and produced a Work of Art…

“Everyday” people in the U.S. state of Alabama willingly recited some of Walt Whitman‘s poetry…

Classic poetry became vernacular…

The simple became spiritual…

Some uncomplicated folk reached into the core of my heart…

And, it definitely made me cry…

You can read about the film-maker, Jennifer Crandall, and her project in The New Yorker; or, visit the project’s WebSite; but, I want to give you the engaging words of my Best Friend, author Jane Watson (interviewed here in November 2011 and December 2012)

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“I have watched this short documentary at least twelve times, in fact I can’t stop watching it – every time I sit down to write I feel I must return to it. When I finally work out why it has affected me so much… I will probably write my own piece of prose to myself…

“I did not read Whitman much at University but I read some of his verse. I’m glad I did not read him when I was eighteen because now I can read him perhaps with more understanding.  I confess when I was young I had a prejudice about some parts of  Leaves of Grass.  As I watched this video poem of Verse 43, I lost this prejudice.  I loved the documentary, the words of the poem, the musicality of the verse, and the people who spoke it. By the end I had come to the conclusion that the Alabama voice is the most lyrical, poetic, and soul affecting I had ever heard.

“When everyday folks speak they make music.

“Interestingly enough the first reader in the video, Billy Wayne, told the documentary maker that he did not agree with some of Whitman’s words. So she asked him: then why did you read it? And he had a simple answer: because you asked me to.

“You might wonder why anyone would want to listen to people reading an unfamiliar poem, some of which they do not agree with, but Billy Wayne, I think, nails it. A poem is a gift… and the reading of its words is a gift to the listener. When Billy Wayne transforms from a shy elderly guy from the backwoods of Alabama, a prisoner of his failing health (he has to use oxygen and a motorised scooter sits out the front in the long grass near the rotting disused sofa), to a brave man seated straight before the camera reading words so carefully, something shifted for me so profoundly it has stayed with me since… I was connected to him and his fragile mortal tragedy in the most intimate way.

“Whitman says in the beginning of Leaves of Grass:

‘…For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you…’

“As we see the close up of Billy Wayne’s face, naked in all its courage, we see his inner essence and realise that the body matters so little. The beauty of the Alabama landscape captured by the wonderful camera work takes us out of this world and it seems that the film-maker is saying: ‘look, look beyond this …’ … just as Whitman was.

“I think Whitman would have really loved this documentary. It personifies his words:

‘…Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left),
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the  dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self…’

“We do listen to many sides in this documentary. We see the accusation in Anthony’s eyes as he tightens the nuts on his car tire and says: ‘…I know everyone of you, I know the sea of torment, doubt, despair, and unbelief…’

“We see the open, vulnerable face of young Diana, who, although exhausted from the heat and from cleaning the motel room of the documentary makers, reads her piece of verse until she faints…

“I am not going to apologise for going so overboard in my enthusiasm of this video. It has a quality that moves me deeply, which I will only do a disservice to, if I try to explain it too much.. so go watch it.”

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#MainStreetWriters & Virtual Worlds


19 days ago I published a post that detailed the goals of the Main Street Writers Movement:Two Author Friends in The State of Writing -- Kitely

  1. To encourage my neighbor writers in the creation of art.
  1. To attend local literary events, because gathering to discuss ideas and encourage creativity is an essential and radical act in these times.
  1. To support my independent bookstore or, if I don’t have one, order direct from the publisher.
  1. To foster a healthy small press and literary magazine climate by reading new work and submitting my own.
  1. To introduce new friends to my core community, allowing us to grow louder and stronger together.
  1. To credit writers and presses publicly for their ideas, photos, and efforts, and to be genuine with praise.
  1. To celebrate every success in my community as a shared success. This is Main Street. Parades welcome.

And, to address the import of the first image up there, it shows two of my author friends (Ali Noel Vyain and Jane Watson) in the virtual world, The State of Writing, on the virtual grid Kitely.

World Portals in Virtual World Kitely We recently, thanks to the owner, author, Jane Watson, began to discuss  Main Street Writers as it relates to her Worlds.

Even though the Movement stresses local engagement, my first awareness of it was from an author in London—it seems to be going global while it establishes itself in localities

And, as far as the virtual worlds I visit, there are writers from Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, California, Germany, Australia, and the Country of Georgia (among other locations on the Earth)

In Jane’s worlds, whether we’re sitting in a cafe, climbing a mountain, taking a boat ride, hang-gliding, or walking under water, we constantly come back to talking about reading, writing, editing, publishing, and other writerly topics… Marina in State of Writing - Kitely virtual world

So, you can join Main Street Writers as a person “…who wishes more people were reading and talking about literature.“

And, you can come join us writers and artists in Jane Watson’s virtual worlds.

Here are a few guidelines for entering Kitely and finding Jane’s worlds:

Go to Kitely.com and join up for free.

 Kitely works best with the Firestorm virtual world viewer—you definitely want the one that says “Opensim” in the description…

Most viewers have the Kitely grid predefined, so you can select it from a menu. For example, in Firestorm the Menu is labeled “Grid” and is located under where you enter your username and password.

When you first enter Kitely you will find yourself at the Welcome area, where can choose your first avatar.

Then, go to the Explore World Pages on the Kitely webpage and enter State of Writing in the Search Bar.

Though, you might want to visit another world of Jane’s called Avatari—you can find a bunch of different avatars there, grab as many as you want…

When you’ve logged in, find the avatar, Arton Tripsa, in search. To facilitate contact you may offer her Friendship and she’ll invite you to the Writers Island Group and, if necessary, send you some LandMarks to help you get around…

If you’re baffled by these instructions, send me an email, amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com, and I’ll have Jane contact you directly and help you enter her virtual worlds :-)

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If you don’t see a way to comment (or, “reply”) after this post, try up there at the top right…
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Grab A Free Novel…
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The Magic and Mystery of Book Covers


There are many theories about what attracts us to certain book covers.

Image Courtesy of Gabriel Robledo ~ http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/groble-50361

Image Courtesy of Gabriel Robledo ~ http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/groble-50361

There are many misconceptions about what a book cover should look like.

To say that certain covers “speak” to certain readers seems true to me…

To say that an author, publisher, or designer can always conceive of the “right” cover for a book has been disproven millions of times.

Notes from An AlienMy short novel, Notes from An Alien, got the best cover I could design—many folks say it’s a “good” cover…

The same thing can be said for the cover of my poetry book, Is Your Soul In Here? Is Your Soul In Here?

Strange Fantasies I had the help of another author, Jane Watson, with the covers of Strange Fantasies and Story BazaarStory Bazaar

I’m not sure if authors really need professional artist/designers for their covers; mostly because I’m not sure what exactly makes a cover “good”.

I may like how it looks but that doesn’t mean others will…

I may be extremely attracted to the cover of a book; but, I may not like the story inside, at all…

Some folks might say a traditional publisher knows exactly the right cover for every book they publish.

Please, go talk to about a dozen authors who were traditionally published—you should find at least one who hated the cover they got…

I’m very sure there’s no readily accessible data for the books the big houses have produced that had “bad” covers…

In the realm of Self-publishing, there are all the self-styled “gurus” who demand you must keep your reader in mind when designing a cover…

Hmmm…

Perhaps a writer locked into a certain genre might “know” who reads their books; but, I tend to doubt if any author could guess the range of folks who could love their books; not to mention, like their covers…

So, with all this uncertainty and razzmatazz, I felt I had to share a particular article from Publishing PerspectivesRising Star Rafaela Romaya: ‘A Very Clear Vision for the Book’.

Rafaela is the Art Director at the Scottish independent publisher, Canongate.

The first statement that jumped out at me was this quote from Rafaela:

“There’s always an element of surprise and unpredictability regarding what draws people to covers, which is partly why each title gets the same amount of care and attention regardless of author or sales expectations.”

So, a professional cover designer admits the response of readers to covers has elements of surprise and unpredictability…

If you end up designing the cover for a book (or, consulting with someone about the design), this quote from Rafaela bears attention:

“I often have a very clear vision for the book and what it can achieve from the outset—finding the essence of the story through a small detail or unusual angle, and executing it in a style right for the audience whilst remaining distinctive.”

O.K., small details and unusual angles might help create a “good” cover; but, again, there is the wild uncertainty in the phrase, “…a style right for the audience…”—please, if someone out there knows exactly how to determine the definable characteristics of any particular book’s audience, my email address is in the blurb after this post………

You might enjoy reading the full interview; but, I will bring the video at the end of the article over here, since it shows a book cover that Totally blows my mind…


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If you don’t see a way to comment (or, “reply”) after this post, try up there at the top right…
Read Some Strange Fantasies
Grab A Free Novel…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Google Author Page
For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

Author Interview ~ Elizabeth Thompson


The woman you’ll meet today is a very good friend of mine—intelligent, witty, and compassionate.

She’s described herself as, “Just a little old lady in a muumuu at heart, habitual writer, raging bibliophile, raving loony.”

I think we’re both right

I met Elizabeth when I was the Events Manager on Book Island in the virtual world, Second Life.

I’d be getting ready for our weekly Writers’ Discussion and Elizabeth would arrive and sit on the rope that surrounded the stage we gathered on

It sometimes took a bit of prodding to get her responses during the discussions—whatever she said always unique and spot-on

We don’t see each other at events on Book Island now—we meet up for amazing discussions with other writers at places like The Muse in Jane Watson‘s The State of Writing, in the virtual world Kitely.

So, I’ve been prodding her, on and off, for years, to have an interview here

Let’s get this thing started :-)

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Elizabeth, how about we start with some basics about you? Nicole Turner - Author

I’m a writer. A minimalist. I’m married (almost a decade now). I’m 29. I live in the great state of Alabama. I’ve been writing books in the same territory (chic-lit, new adult fiction) for over a decade.

What would you say your writing “style” is?

Messy. Flawed. Silly. But oh-so honest. I like writing about the people I wish I knew. I call them my imaginary friends because I carry them every single place I go. They keep me company when I’m lonely and give me something to sleep to at night. As a matter of fact, I named one of my mains Lullaby because for the better part of a year, that’s what she did for me—sat up in my dark bedroom with me, helping me clear my head when I needed to in order to fall asleep.

So, want to tackle “Why do you write”?

From personal callings gifted by Divine Providence to desperate dreams of sweet immortality, I’ve heard a million answers to this question. Some people are in love with the idea of it. Some people like the lifestyle. Some want to make a living. Some want to be read, to be heard, to be understood. There are people who write with the purest intentions; they want to change the world for the better. I think these are all wonderful reasons to put pen to paper. Sadly, though, my answer isn’t as colorful, exciting, or noble. I just do it because I like to.

[ Editor’s note—Elizabeth is now up to speed :-) ]

As far as publishing goes, what route would you say you’re taking?

I’ve been self-publishing since I was 19, I think. What I like about self-publishing is, you’re in complete control of your finished product (or mostly are). And in my case, there’s not a lot of upfront cost. If you have the time and desire to learn about cover design and basic self-promotion, you can do a whole lot with nothing but your talent and time invested. That’s pretty amazing. I don’t think I could ever do traditional publishing. I’m not brave enough. And the idea of my words being mass-printed and available for the world to pick apart and analyze petrifies me. I love that I can pick and choose who I share what with.

In your opinion, Elizabeth, what does it take to be a good writer?

A story to tell and a willingness to tell it. Honesty. Patience. Hard work. You have to be willing to put yourself out there. And stand there and take it with a smile when the unpredictable, sometimes unkind world reacts to your art. It’s like taking your sweet, precious, irreplaceable pet bunny and gently tossing it into a cage of starving lions. I’m sure there’s a chance they might just look at it and walk off (in a take-it-or-leave-it sort of way), but most likely, they’ll gobble it up OR rip it apart and roll around in what’s left. For me, that’s the toughest part.

Who are your favorite storytellers?

Erma Bombeck. I have every single one of her books. She was the funniest lady. I love and admire the way she could take a mundane task like doing the laundry and turn it into a 10-page chapter about trips to Hawaii and that one time she went to a potluck dinner and caught the table linens on fire. She was a drama queen in the best sort of way—an original desperate housewife. But her desperation was a different kind.

I love Dolly Parton, and I have since I was 5. I love her songwriting, her acting, and I really loved her children’s book I am a Rainbow. She’s kind and gentle, but she shoots straight. There is so much power in humble honesty.

My mom. When she’s telling a funny story, she gets so tickled by the memory, she starts laughing and can’t finish telling it. And when she’s telling campfire tales she does an impression of a chicken which can not be described with words. It’s priceless.

How do your favorite storytellers inspire/shape your own stories?

I recently decided, my new motto is, when it comes to campsites, hotel rooms, and other peoples hearts, leave it better than how you found it or leave it alone in the first place.

My mother used to clean hotel rooms for a living, and we never, ever left one we’d stayed in without her cleaning it first and leaving a tip for the housekeeper. This is very important to her. I used to laugh at her for it, but I’ll never forget and hopefully I’ll pass it down to my own kids someday.

I read a story Dolly told once about a statue of her they’d erected in a park someplace in her honor. She mentioned how her father would go out there and clean the bird poop off it. She teared up when she talked about how much that meant to her.

Care to share some advice for other writers?

There’s a lot to be said for remembering how you started out and appreciating how far you’ve come. What’s even more important, maybe, is that you don’t forget to look back and try and help out those who aren’t quite up to your progress point yet.

Elizabeth, I truly hope we can get you back here, soon, for another interview—Thanks a Heap :-)

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Elizabeth’s WebSite/Blog
Her Pinterest Page
And, Her Flickr Page

Nicole left us this postscript:
“Whenever I have books available for purchase, or for free through giveaways, links will be posted on the sidebar of my blog.”

Now is a great time to ask Elizabeth some questions in the comments…

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Read Some Strange Fantasies
Grab A Free Novel…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

Too Old to Write a Book?


Yesterday, my Best Friend sent me a link to an article from Overland, authored by Melissa Fagan, a Brisbane-based writer, writing teacher, and MPhil candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Queensland.

Too Old to Write a Book?

Image Courtesy of mihai radu ~ http://www.freeimages.com/profile/mihairadu

The article is entitled Not Dead Yet.

I found it intensely absorbing since my Best Friend published her first novel at 50 and I, in spite of a life-long love of words didn’t get busy writing seriously till my mid-50s.

The first point made by Melissa (quoting from a New York Times op-ed) is:

“‘Age-based awards are outdated and discriminatory, even if unintentionally so. Emerging writers are emerging writers.’”

Melissa had outed herself as an “emerging writer” who’s over 35

She brings up the disturbing trend that assumes 40 is some sort of “obvious” cut-off age for a writer’s spark and verve

She also shares a compelling list of authors who quash that idea

Another excerpt:

“There are all sorts of trajectories a writing journey can take, and a writer’s emergence can be stymied or delayed by any number of things. Lack of opportunity or education. Disability or addiction. Physical or mental illness. Choosing, or being forced into, a primary caring role. Being consumed by a demanding career, or by a sense of obligation – to one’s parents perhaps, or one’s community – to meet a prescribed set of expectations. Or, as Stephanie Convery has written about with honesty and eloquence, a writer may be thwarted by her own demons: by jealousy, anxiety, or an unwillingness to fail.”

She poignantly reveals her own struggles, then says:

“Do we honestly think that it’s harder for young writers to be published, to break out or break through, to emerge to wherever or whatever the hell it is we’re emerging to? Or is there something else at play: a doubling down perhaps, or a doubling up? A preference for precocity that, when examined, starts to look a lot like prejudice.”

Do you know “emerging” writers over 40?

Over 50?

60?

Do you think youth has some special ingredient that helps writers but disappears as one ages?

Are the experiences garnered in five or six decades more valuable than the ones plucked in the spring of life?

Is it somehow “wrong” to take the whole of middle-age to finish writing a book?

Does our literate culture over-value youth?

One of Melissa’s commenters:

“Thank you for this. I’m trying to be an emerging writer and I’m 44. I’ve been trying to fit this in around a chronic illness that developed when I was 29, and I can also relate to your personal aspects of discouragement and lack of resilience….”

Another commenter:

“Why all this fixation on writing processes, I wonder? Just write the stuff, if that’s your wont, and dwell on all the other bullshit not.”

And:

“…I waited until now, when I have four small children, too many pets, and everyone needs clean clothes and food, several times a day, and here I am, finding the moments to scratch out stories. It’s less to do with youth and more to do with when you’re ready.”

Perhaps you have thoughts or feelings to share in the Comments (about you or someone you know)?
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Read Some Strange Fantasies
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To Leave A Comment, Use The Link At The Top-Right of The Post :-)
For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com