Category Archives: Random

Working Poor: My New American Dream

The Huffington post is currently running a series called “The Working Poor” about people who work full time and yet are still having trouble making the ends meet. Just today, they posted my article on the subject, which you can read here.

If you read through the article, you’ll here about my own personal experiences with student loan debt, as well as that of people I know. More than that, though, you will learn about the unfair advantage that the federal government gives Big Banking while taking advantage of students around the country. Though banks receive massive loans, they get them at a near 0% interest rate — students pay much more than that. My own loans average 6.8% interest.

This might not seem like a lot, but for someone just starting out in life, it’s rough. And when you think about the government profiting off of its citizens while giving more-than-ideal borrowing conditions to banks and large corporations, you should get mad. You should get mad because it makes no sense. In a country where we are beginning to lag behind the rest of the developed word in terms of education, we should be giving our population every advantage to do well and learn — not shackle them with endless debt.

I hope you agree with me. And if you don’t, I offer only conversation so that you can hear my side and I can hear yours. The link again is: here.


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‘Almost Rain’ — new poetry from Simon Perchik, available now!

Almost Rain by Simon Perchik

Almost Rain by Simon Perchik

Two months ago I was approached by Diane Smith, the founding editor of Grey Sparrow/River Otter Press (who published my book), about editing a book of poetry that she was considering publishing. I agreed, and within the hour I had an eighty page poetry manuscript with a familiar name on it — Simon Perchik.

Simon Perchik is an American poet who has been writing poetry since the 1960s. And when I say he’s been writing, I mean writing: with over 20 books credited to his name, he is one of the most widely published and prolific poets of our day. Repositories of his work and correspondence reside in the Library of Congress Rare Book Collection, The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection at Yale, and the Avant Writing Collection at Ohio State University. In short, he’s a pretty big deal.

And I got to edit his work. Talk about pressure.

Themes of loss, loneliness, and longing are prominent in Perchik’s work, which thrusts the reader into a world of turmoil somehow still filled with beauty. What the poet accomplishes best is the conveyance of mood — to read one of these poems is to become one with the speaker; to feel the his pain, his joy. To put it bluntly, Perchik is the kind of poet that I one day hope to be. His poetry is the kind of poetry that someone can read, and reread, and reread and come away with a different interpretation each time; a new layer.

This poem, from the end of the book, is emblematic of the rest of the work within the monograph:


These waves still surface, not sure

it’s her lips that open and close, kept moist

though you can’t hear her voice

scented with rotting wood, weeds

and bottom sand—you row this boat

left, right, swinging your arms

half moonlight, half almost makes out

the words rising from empty shells

and the dress you first saw her in

—you need more arms, clear summer nights

from that inch by inch love song

heavier than these overgrown paths

no longer listening for her forehead

that once anchored the Earth

and water too knows what it has

reeling from a gentle stroke, another

another, facing the sky

it leaves behind, caressing her hair

her breasts, her shimmering—some nights

you can hear her, one by one

—some nights it’s colder, colder.

If you’re a reader of poetry looking for a book that capitalizes on over 40 years of training and practice — a careful honing of skills — then this is the book for you. It is a collection by a poet at the pinnacle of his career; a lifetime of expertise distilled into one beautiful tome. And to top it all off, it’s accompanied by the haunting art of Peter Ciccariello, who’s artwork has been featured in such notable publications as Poetry Magazine and the cover of Rae Armantrout’s 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning book, Versed.

Some say that life begets life. I say that poetry begets poetry. Pick up a copy of Almost Rain today and bring some poetry into your life!

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Filed under Grey Sparrow / River Otter Press, Publishing, Random

Tribute Issue of The Newtowner coming soon!

Cover art by Harry Campbell

For the past few months I have been volunteering with The Newtowner on a very special project: a special tribute issue of the magazine offered as a “healing gift to the people of Newtown” after the tragedy that they have faced.

The issue features work by such notable authors as Wally Lamb, Lois Lowry, Katherine Paterson, Steven Kellogg, and Yusef Komunyakaa alongside letters from national leaders like Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and the people most directly impacted by the crisis: the people of Newtown. Teachers, students, and residents of the brave town offer their own words of love, hope, and compassion, showing us that good can come from even the most heinous of actions.

Though the issue is not yet available (you can pre-order copies here), I can tell you from my work with it that it accomplishes what it has set out to accomplish: it examines the tragedy with a focus on the victims, not the perpetrator, and offers itself as a beacon of light and hope to cut through the darkness and despair. It shows us the strength not only of the people who have been forced to heal, but also of the art and literature that can help mend broken hearts and shattered lives.

I will post something closer to the publication date once it is finalized, but I wanted to let all of you know that this has been in the works. There are 14 days left to the campaign of supplying each family in Sandy Hook with an issue of the magazine, and you can do your part by donating anything that you can to their indiegogo page here.

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Happy 4th of July!

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July 4, 2013 · 12:18 pm

Do you want to keep America a bastion of free speech?

Does the NSA’s surveillance of online activity and phone calls get you all riled up? Does this expansion of the Patriot Act make you feel like America is moving one step closer to becoming one of the “corrupt” governments that it so willingly condemns elsewhere in the world?

If so, it’s time to tell them what’s what.

If you’ve got a website or a blog, I suggest you join the protest organized by Fight For the Future, which is already seeing participation from thousands of websites including Mozilla, WordPress, 4chan, and MoveOn. For more precise information on the movement, check out the TechCrunch article found here.

From Fight For the Future’s website:

The Internet Defense League is a network of websites that sound the alarm whenever there is a huge threat to the free and open Internet, or an opportunity to make it better. Get the code for your site (you can choose between a banner or a modal) add it to your site’s HTML, and take a stand for the 4th Amendment this July 4th.

Follow this link here for the code to add their message to your website or blog.

Tomorrow, when you get up to celebrate the birth of our great nation, a nation based on freedom, tell the government to back off. Join in the movement by posting the text of the 4th Amendment on your blog or website or lampposts and fire hydrants and anything else you can get your hands on. Call your congressional representatives and let them know how you feel. They’re already listening; it’s time to make ourselves heard.

Remind the Federal Government that this is America, the Land of the Free, where we are supposed to be able to say whatever we want without fearing government surveillance.

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An introduction to Vanity Presses: what they are and how to avoid them

“Mirrors” by Mark Santa Ana/Flickr. Playing off of the word vanity, of course.

The promise of publication is one of the most enticing promises to an aspiring author (beaten only, perhaps, by the promise of fame and riches). But the promise of publication can also be one of the most dangerous promises for an author to stumble upon — a verifiable sirens call — because it is ofttimes a promise offered by the prostitutes of the publishing world: or, as the rest of the world calls them, vanity presses.

A vanity press is a press that preys upon the author struggling to make his dream of being published a reality. Vanity presses usually present themselves as a company that would like to help you make your dreams come true: they tell you that they see merit in your work, that you deserve to be published, and that they can make that happen. There is a catch, though: they can’t do it for free.

While they can come in a variety of forms, there are two common business models behind these presses. The first deals with single-author books: the author must pay for the entire editing process — editing, printing, distributing, marketing, and any of a slew of other “services” that they claim to offer. This is the primary way that the press will make their money — not by selling your book to any audience, but by selling you their services. The second model involves anthologies of multiple authors, where there is usually no charge for editing and printing. This model almost seems legitimate, until you realize that the primary way that the press makes money off of these books is by selling copies of them to the authors themselves (or, as an added profit, to the friends and families of the authors) at an extremely marked up price.

Hence, the term vanity press: they are presses that cash in on the vanity of aspiring authors who just want to see their names in print, and who will gladly jump at the opportunity, even if it involves shelling out cold hard cash for a book that they will never see any profits from.

But the worst part of it is, in my mind, that these presses will publish anything. In the case of an anthology, you can find some pretty decent poetry paired up with poetry reminiscent of the limericks scrawled on the bathroom stall at the local A&P. That is, perhaps, the biggest ego crusher the unsuspecting author who is thrilled with his first publication will face when he receives his $30 copy — while his work might have been good enough to place in an actual publication, he finds it next to poetry that looks and sounds like something a cat threw up.

Believe me, I know the feeling. My first publication was at the hands of a vanity press.

Under the premise of “scouring the internet for the best new online poetry,” this particular press told me that they wanted to publish one of my poems that I had posted on a poetry forum. As a twelve year old, I was thrilled, and I gladly signed the contract and ordered two copies (one for my grandmother, of course). And when my copy arrived only a month later, I was virtually ecstatic — they chose my poem to be the first poem in the book. My poem was the introduction to a wonderful literary endeavor.

And then I found out that my uncle had also had a poem accepted for the same book, and when I flipped through his pages I was dismayed to find that his poem opened the book, and that mine was actually nowhere to be found. That was when I realized that I had been gypped. It was a crushing blow that left me unable to send any of my work out for years (which is actually fine by me, because the angst-ridden poetry from my tween years was — I do not exaggerate — god-awful).

But I do have to say that I’m (sort of) thankful for the experience, because it has made me a more careful writer. Because of my experience with a vanity press, I now don’t send anything out as a submission to a press that looks anything other than professional. I no longer let my eagerness to have work published overwhelm my own sense of common sense.

I do want to say, as a quick aside, that for some people a vanity press is a perfectly legitimate business endeavor. If you truly only want to be able to say that you have had a book published, and don’t mind the fact that you will never receive any money or real gratification from the endeavor, then by all means go for it. For some, that’s enough.  Most writers, though, would benefit from some quick rules that help them differentiate a vanity press from the more legitimate presses.

  1. They Charge a Fee: A vanity press will generally require the author to pay for the cost of reading, editing, and producing the book, and will then charge exorbitant prices for copies of it.
  2. Lack of Scrutiny: A vanity press will publish truly anything. They’ll gladly publish the novel that you slaved over for years, that is actually almost ready to be published by a bigger name publisher, and in the same fell swoop publish a photobook of various piles of dog feces.
  3. Lack of Profit: As you are the press’s primary source of income, you can pretty much say goodbye to any thoughts of receiving an advance or royalties for your book. If the press does sell to people apart from you, they’re generally going to keep any of that extra profit for themselves.

I do want to draw some distinctions between vanity presses and do it yourself publishing, though, because they can be very similar. While DIY publishing is completely paid for by the author, the author also keeps all of the profits (apart from printing costs). And while some DIY publishing projects have been astronomically horrendous, there have actually been a good number of very successful books published and printed entirely by the authors — no publishing house involved. While DIY publishing isn’t for everyone, it is a viable option, and it is certainly a better choice than a vanity press if an author ever wants to potential to earn profits from their work.

Here is a handy chart from The Open Publishing Guide illustrating the differences between a vanity press and the DIY publishing model:

Self-Publishing vs. Vanity Publishing

Image credit to The Open Publishing Guide

What about you? Have you ever had any experience with a vanity press? Have you ever been swayed to sign away your rights and the potential of future profit just to have something published in your name? How did you recover from the blow of knowing that you were duped (or have you yet to recover)?

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Does having your work cited excite you?

A friend forwarded me an email today from the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day program, and I was thrilled to find that another friend (and former professor of mine), Gina Barreca, was quoted as a part of the e-blast.

I forwarded the message to her, thinking she might get a kick out of it. At the same time, I thought that she would be much less excited about having her work quoted — it happens to her so often — than if I had had my own work quoted. The email she shot back to me was one of pure ecstasy. It was as though this moment was the crowning achievement of long and (might I add) extremely successful career.

I’m glad to see that she hasn’t lost the excitement that comes with learning that someone else has read, and helped to disseminate, your work. It gives me hope.

I was filled with the same excitement the day I found that one of my essays had been quoted in someone’s blog (you can find the link here, if you’re so inclined). I can’t even begin to imagine how exciting it would be to be quoted by such an authority as the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and in a program that reaches thousands of participants each day.

In all honesty, I’d be thrilled just to find that somebody had quoted one of my poems on the wall of a dirty bathroom stall. (If anyone here has read any of my work, and would like to do me the honor, I’d be forever in your debt. The skankier the stall, the better. If you do it, and send me a photo, I might even send you a signed copy of my book haha.)

Can you understand Barreca’s excitement? Have you ever found any of your work to have been quoted somewhere? What did it feel like? Do you think you’ll ever get tired of the feeling?

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Filed under Author Tips, Random, Writing