Determining the Level of Your Literary Writing | Literary Submission Strategies

MP900341496[1]One of my poems, “Elegy to Aunt Jo,” was accepted today by Rose Red Review. The editor asked for an updated bio and I took that as an opportunity to use Duotrope, a subscription-based literary (and academic) journal database, to determine just what level my writing is at.

I entered Rose Red Review and saw that its acceptance rate is about 15%. I checked out a few other journals that recently accepted my poetry (in rounded numbers):

Then I checked acceptance rates of publications in which my fiction and creative nonfiction have recently appeared:

Should I realistically conclude that I should aim higher with my fiction and not so high with my poetry? Maybe.

According to Allison K Williams, author of Get Published in Literary Magazines (Coriander Press, 2016), you should submit to three journals a bit above your level, three that are a bit below (the safe choices), and four right where you are.  I think in my next wave of sending work out I may play this by the numbers and see what happens.

Question 4U: What are your strategies for sending your work out?

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Take Your Instincts Seriously | A Success Story

Years alightbulb_ideago when I was director of corporate branding for the fledgling but sizable Lucent Technologies, I learned the value of honoring the inkling of an idea. When I had the flash of an idea, I recognized it and took action. I did the same thing with genealogy. I would wake up and just knew who to call, who to write, how to break through that brick wall.

But this approach didn’t always work with my creative writing. But this week that all changed. This week I saw a post on Trish Hopkinson’s blog about a call for submissions from Silver Birch Press. The call requested “If I” poetry and prose. I thought about a poem I’d written a few years ago, “What If?” In it, I wondered what would have happened in my family if there’d been no Holocaust. I revised it last night and sent it in today. Within an hour, I received an acceptance and it will be posted sometime soon.

What if I hadn’t read Trish’s blog? What if I didn’t already have a poem that just needed some tweaking? What if I just dismissed this opportunity?

When an idea comes to you to send your work to a specific market, take it seriously. Maybe it will work out for you or maybe it won’t. But take the risk. Otherwise you’ll never know.

Question 4u: When has your instinct led you to do something with your creative writing? Tell us about it.

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Selected Seats Still Available | The Whole Megillah Online Writing Classes

MP900341496[1]The Fiction I class has been so successful that The Whole Megillah is excited to announce several new classes. Please note that Creative Nonfiction begins September 10:

The Whole Megillah Writing Circle
Receive exclusively Jewish prompts weekly for six weeks and post your writing using these prompts to a private Facebook page for commentary.
Fee: $150
Start Date: October 30

Creative Nonfiction
Use fictional techniques to create compelling nonfiction narrative in this six-week class. We’ll explore memoir, humor, travel, food, nature essays and revision through a combination of weekly readings and writing exercises.
Fee: $300
Start Date: September 10

Picture Books
Through a series of writing exercises, draft a picture book kids will love in this six-week class. We’ll explore the different kinds of picture books, problem solving, language, text vs. illustration, and more.
Fee: $300
Start Date: November 6

One-on-One Revision Lab
Work with me on revising your manuscript—picture book, middle grade, YA, and adult literary—using a technique I’ve perfected in the classroom: Revision Lab. We’ll work together on creating a storyboard of your work that helps you identify scenes to keep, enhance, or delete.
Fee: Depends on the length and complexity of the project
Start Date: Any time

How to Sign Up

Send an email to barbarakrasner (at) att (dot) net.

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In the Spirit of Poetry Has Value | August 2016 Report

August was more about scheduling and prepping for the fall semester than it was generating and sending out my own creative work with two exceptions:

  • I participated in a four-day Highlights Foundation Unworkshop and completed the first draft of my pre-Holocaust novel in verse.
  • I’m continuing to write poetry each week with instructor Matthew Lippman in a one-on-one and feel like I’m finally accomplishing some emotional depth.

Here are my August statistics:

Poetry: Sent to one venue, Reformjudaism.org. Acceptance, one, by Reformjudaism.org. I’m super excited about this one, because it’s a direct result of my research fellowship at the American Jewish Archives in June. I proposed a blog post about Emma Lazarus and Reform Liturgy. It was accepted and will run in October on the anniversary of the Statue of Liberty. Rejections, four, by US #1 Worksheets, Prime Number, Whale Road Review (but a lovely, personalized rejection), and Massachusetts Review.

Short fiction: No action.

Creative nonfiction: No action. But I have signed up for a one-day workshop at the New School with Nancy Kelton, whom I interviewed recently.

Academic journal articles: Submitted “No Stone Unturned: Newark’s Grove Street Cemetery” to New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. I proposed a first-year literature paper to the Northeast Modern Language Association.

Other August activities: I drafted a picture book biography manuscript.

 

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2016 March of the Living | An Interview with Participant, Author Kathy Kacer

Kathy Kacer (left) with friends. Photo courtesy of Kathy Kacer.

Kathy Kacer (left), survivor Max Eisen, and friend.
Photo courtesy of Kathy Kacer.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): How did you first get involved with the March of the Living?
Kathy Kacer (KK): I had thought about going on the March of the Living for years, but kept putting it off. Perhaps it is that I immerse myself in this history on a daily basis through my writing. Or perhaps I was worried about how I would cope emotionally with everything that I knew I’d be seeing. I naively thought that the March would always be there for me to take part in at some point. And so, as I said, I kept putting it off. But earlier this year, I attended an event where a number of Holocaust survivors were speaking. Many of them had also been going on the March as chaperones. In their respective speeches, a number of the survivors said that they would no longer be going on the trip. Several of them had health issues that would make this journey too difficult. Some simply said that they could no longer withstand the emotional strain of it all. I realized that if I wanted to participate in the March in the presence of the survivors, I had better sign on soon! And that’s what I did.

TWM: Please describe the logistics of the March and its duration.
KK: The trip takes place very year after Pesach. It is divided into two parts; the first is to Poland where you visit a number of the concentration camps (Auschwitz/Birkenau, Plazow, Majdanek, Treblinka), a number of ghettos (Krakow, Warsaw), cemeteries, along with other sites where the murder of Jews took place. You travel in buses of about 35 people. There is a guide on each bus along with a survivor. The actual March happens on Yom Hashoah where thousands gather in Auschwitz and walk in solidarity to Birkenau to attend a memorial service. This year there were 12,000 people from around the world who were there on the actual march day. The Poland part of the trip is about eight days and then you fly to Israel and are there for another eight days, seeing sites across the country and participating in the events of Yom Ha’atzmaut. Because of some personal commitments, I was only able to participate in the Poland part of the trip.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Kacer.

Gathering in Auschwitz to begin the March to Birkenau. Photo courtesy of Kathy Kacer.

TWM: What were your expectations?
KK: I’m not sure I went with any expectations. I was nervous about how I would react to seeing these killing sites–that’s for sure. I certainly wanted to learn more about this history. I wanted to put actual images to the names of places that I had read about for years. And I wanted to be in the presence of the survivors as they recounted their stories in the very places where they had been separated from family members or where they had managed to survive. Other than that, I wanted to be open to every part of the experience.

TWM: Did anything surprise you in a positive way?
KK: I was amazed at how beautiful Krakow was! I think I naively expected some kind of shtetl town and instead was blown away by this charming cosmopolitan city. I would definitely want to return there one day. Other than that, I think I was surprised by the description of Poland today. The guides were very careful to distinguish between Poland “then” and Poland “now.” Many talked about Poland’s support of Israel today and the absence of anti-Semitism in the country. I’m not sure I believed it all, but it was surprising to hear this.

TWM: What was your most defining moment?
KK: Oh there were so many! But let me describe this moment in Majdanek. I must say that Auschwitz Birkenau was overwhelming and massive and emotional. But most of us on the trip agreed that Majdanek, though equally emotional, was also completely creepy. It is located within the town of Lublin about 3 hours from Warsaw. At its entrance you are accosted by a massive, Soviet built monument that is rough and harsh. The field where the barracks existed is massive. And at the far end, there is a memorial building that houses the ashes of tens of thousands of Jews. I was struck on the whole trip by the unpredictably of my tears. I didn’t know what would trigger them. In Majdanek I didn’t cry during the entire tour—not as we walked through the gas chamber, not in the barracks, not in the crematorium, and not in front of the mound of ashes at the memorial. What brought on the tears was watching some teenagers from California who were also there on their own tour. They were sitting close to the memorial building, reading letters that they had brought with them from their parents who had been instructed to write a letter to their child, seal it in an envelope and send it with them on this journey. The kids were only allowed to open the letters and read them at the end of their tour of this place. I couldn’t help but think that there were once young Jewish people who had been imprisoned here who were separated from their parents and never heard from them again. It completely gutted me!

Photo courtesy of Kathy Kacer.

On the train tracks outside of Birkenau. Photo courtesy of Kathy Kacer.

TWM: They say the march is a life-changing experience. Is that true for you? If so, how?
KK: It’s hard to say whether or not this trip is life-changing. It certainly was the one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. I learned so much history that I didn’t know. I met some incredible people all of whom had important personal reasons for wanting to be there. I’m so glad I went—difficult as it was at times. And I’m grateful that I went with survivors while they are still capable of going! Most of the survivors on this trip were in their late 80s. In five years this trip will look completely different when they are no longer a part of it.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Kacer.

The Jewish Cemetery in Krakow. Photo courtesy of Kathy Kacer.

TWM: Will your participation in the march change anything in what or how you wrote about the Holocaust (or anything else)?
KK: I have no question that the trip will change the way I write—though I’m not even sure how. The heightened emotional connection that I made with this history while on the trip will stay with me and I’m sure will find its way into my writing. Interestingly, the new book I’m working on has a young character who comes from Krakow. So I guess it’s already working its way into my writing!

TWM: Any tips for participants? How can one become a participant?
KK: My husband wasn’t able to go with me on the trip and at first I was determined to go on my own. In the end, I found a close friend who was willing to go, and I’m so glad I had someone with me on the journey. It’s great having someone to cry with, laugh with, and to debrief with at the end of the day—even though the organizers provide many opportunities for participants to talk about their experiences. If possible, I’d recommend going with someone. To become a participant you can get in touch with your local synagogue or Jewish Community Centre. Most should have information about the groups that are organizing a March tour in your city. You can also go to the website for the International MOL.

For more about author Kathy Kacer, please visit her website.

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Author’s Notebook | Richard Michelson, Author of Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy

FASCINATING_w final art (2)Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy
Written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Edel Rodriguez
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, 2016

The Whole Megillah (TWM): Since you had a personal relationship with Leonard Nimoy, were there differences in writing this picture book biography vs. others you’ve written where no personal relationship existed?
Richard Michelson (RM): Every book has its own challenges and difficulties, so while writing about a close friend presented some potential pitfalls. I wasn’t particularly worried, as Leonard and I had discussed his poetry and photography and film/theater work in the past, and I knew he appreciated my honest appraisal—whether or not we disagreed (we rarely did); nor was I worried about “letting him down” or having him interfere with my own creative choices. That said, I was clearly relieved that he seemed so enthusiastic about the text.

When I wrote Tuttles Red Barn: the Story of the Oldest Family Farm in America or Twice As Good: The story of William Powell and Clearview, the only golf course designed, built, and owned by an African-American I had the added pressure of proving to the Tuttle and Powell families that a total stranger who they had never met or heard of, could be trusted with their family histories.  With Lipman Pike: America’s First Home Run King I had the opposite problem of trying to track down a descendant (I never did—still looking). Writing those biographies, I was hoping to shed light on a little known American story.
With As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom the issues were much more similar to Fascinating,  as I had to take lives that everyone thought they knew, and find a fresh angle to tell the tale.

TWM: In writing Fascinating, what were the challenges? The satisfactions?
RM: The challenge was overcoming expectations that this would be a “celebrity biography.” I needed to convince parents that there is a real reason to read this book with their young children who, frankly, are not likely to have heard of Nimoy or watched “Star Trek” yet  (though they might have seen the figurines).

The satisfaction has been hearing from librarians and other advance copy readers (the book is not yet published as I answer these questions) who say, “I was not a sci-fi fan, or a Trekker, but this is a moving heartfelt biography that imparts real values and will appeal to a wide spectrum of kids.”

I was heartened by Leonard’s continuing challenge to himself to defy expectations, to embrace his acclaim, and yet never allow it to infringe on his other artistic pursuits, both artistic (photography, live theater, poetry) and human (political engagement, advocate for young artists,  a deep love of  family and friends). He had an intellectual  curiosity about all things that inspired me, and that  I hope will inspire the readers of this book.

Richard Michelson and Leonard Nimoy at Nimoy's 80th birthday party. Photo: Sylvia Mautner Photography

Richard Michelson and Leonard Nimoy at Nimoy’s 80th birthday party. Photo: Sylvia Mautner Photography

TWM: Why did you decide to write Leonard’s story while he was alive? Why in that moment?
RM: We traveled together on and off for the last dozen years of Leonard’s life, and we had much time to sit over meals and trade stories of our childhoods, and aspirations. But because it was such a personal relationship, it truthfully never even occurred to me to write about Leonard—which shows that good ideas can be right under our noses, but too close for us to see them (embarrassing, since in my workshops I encourage all writers to mine their “family and friend” histories).  It was after I’d watched a documentary, Leonard Nimoy’s Boston  that his son Adam had made (his latest documentary film is For the Love of Spock), a project which was originally conceived as a family memoir for the Nimoy kids and grandkids—that I realized Leonard’s life story would be perfect to inspire the “next generation.”

At the time, I had no idea that Leonard would pass away the following year from COPD (his daughter Julie is working on a documentary to help raise money to fight the disease: COPD: Highly Illogical ).  In fact, my hope was that we would go on a book tour together—or that I would at least Skype him into venues  (we did that a couple of times when he recorded my earlier book Too Young for Yiddish).

TWM: Did you interview him for the book or base your narrative on conversations you had in the past?
RM: Conversations we’d had in the past—I did not want Leonard to know I was writing the book, until I was done. I didn’t want the extra pressure on myself to meet a deadline, or to explain why I abandoned the project if it was not working out.  As I mention in my afterword: I sent my draft to Leonard. It was Thanksgiving morning 2014, and I heard back immediately in an email… It’s wonderful and I’m flattered. . . . It is an amazing piece of work and I love that you decided to do it. That evening, after finishing the turkey, Leonard wrote again with some corrections—names, dates, and a very few edits.

TWM: As a participant in the art world, what has been your reaction to the book’s illustrations?
RM: I did not know of Edel’s work (by name) when my editor suggested I check out his site and I immediately thought it was a perfect fit. I didn’t even know at the time that Edel had taught himself English when he arrived in this country from Cuba, by listening to old “Star Trek” episodes! Edel was able to take a realistic historical text and give it a sci-fi graphic  look without losing any of the humanity.

TWM: How do you plan to promote the book?
RM: Your wonderful blog is a good place to start! And I will be speaking at some Star Trek conventions (including Mission 50 in NYC), schools, and I have been contacted by many JCCs and other Jewish organization (the famous Vulcan salute, as you may know, was based on an orthodox prayer) —I have a lecture I give titled: Jewish Literacy: Seeking Out New Frontiers.  Join Richard Michelson as he boldly explores the universe of “children’s” literature, and narrates his own journey from uninformed atheist to someone whose books are being used to advance Jewish literacy. Richard will focus on his latest book, Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy and discuss what Jewish Picture Books and Leonard Nimoy have in common. And how both are helping to spread Jewish values and raise the “next generation” of Jewish kids. I am available for hire!! I am also pleased to note that it is both a PJ Library and Junior Library Guild selection. I will be signing Fascinating at the Yiddish Book Center Sept 18th, at 4 after their screening of “For the Love of Spock.”

TWM: What are your favorite PB biographies and who are your favorite PB authors (other than yourself)?
RM: I read fairly widely but most of my reading is poetry. I am so busy keeping up with the almost 60 author/illustrators I represent at R. Michelson Galleries, that their books alone keep me way too busy. In the last couple of years I have exhibited illustrations from wonderful biographies (and autobiographies) by Emily Arnold McCully; Wendell Minor, EB Lewis, Brian Pinkney; Raul Colon Eric Velasquez, David Small, Uri Shulevitz, Kadir Nelson, Barry Moser, Mordicai Gerstein and others. And speaking of Mordicai, I  am pleased to be speaking on December 18th at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art with him and three other masters of biographical writing (and my good friends), Jane Yolen, Lesléa Newman, and Barbara Diamond Goldin.

TWM: Any advice for aspiring PB bio authors?
RM: This is boring advice but the old truths are the best: Read, read, read—and see what the best of your elders and contemporaries are doing. And more importantly, sit down and write. I mean right now. Still here? We all have a million reasons why we don’t have time “right now.” Since this is the last question and you are done with the interview, instead of scrolling back to Facebook, and checking your email: WRITE!!!

About Richard Michelson

Richard Michelson‘s many books for children, teens and adults have been listed among the Ten Best of the Year by The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and The New Yorker; and among the best Dozen of the Decade by Amazon. He is the only author in the 48-year history of The Association of Jewish Libraries to receive both its Sydney Taylor Gold and Silver Medals in a single year. Michelson is a three-time finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the Massachusetts Book Award. Other honors include three Skipping Stones Multicultural Book Awards, a National Parenting Publication Gold Medal and an International Reading Association Teacher’s Choice Award.

Michelson is the owner of R. Michelson Galleries in Northampton MA, where he recently served two terms as Poet Laureate. He is the recipient of a 2016 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship in Poetry.

Michelson’s Jewish-themed books include As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom; Lipman Pike: America’s First Home Run King; A is for Abraham-A Jewish Family Alphabet; Too Young for Yiddish (recorded by Leonard Nimoy); and his just published Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy. The Language of Angels: A Story about the Reinvention of Hebrew is forthcoming in 2017.

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Author’s Notebook | Meryl G. Gordon, The Flower Girl Wore Celery

mery gordonDebut children’s book author Meryl G. Gordon speaks with The Whole Megillah about her picture book, The Flower Girl Wore Celery, published by Kar-Ben.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What was your inspiration for this story?
Meryl G. Gordon (MG): When my son and son-in-law were getting married back in 2010, my cousin’s four-year-old daughter Emma (yes, that is her real name) was all excited to be their flower girl.  Then one day, my cousin called, laughing, and said “Emma said she’s afraid to come to the wedding because of the Ring BEAR!”  And I remembered my own daughter who, when she was going to a flower girl many years ago, told everyone, “I’m going to be a Flower and my brother is going to be a Ring Bear.”  So I thought, this is so universal, this has to be a story.  And then, combined with the fact that I couldn’t find a book to buy for Emma about a flower girl at a wedding with no bride like we were having, let alone a Jewish wedding, I decided to write one.  So originally it was two grooms and many versions later it became two brides.

TWM: What were the challenges in writing it? The satisfactions?
MGG: I knew I wanted to write about a little girl misunderstanding all these grown-up words, and I knew she’d misunderstand about the flower girl first but would get that cleared up right away, and then would be confused about the ring bearer.  Then I decided to give a gender-neutral name to the person her cousin was marrying, so she wouldn’t know there would be two grooms (later, two brides).  Then I wanted one more confusion and it took me months to come up with the last thing, which was that she wouldn’t understand that celery was the name of her dress color.  For my son’s real wedding, the dress color was lettuce, which gave me the idea, but “celery dress” is easier to pronounce than “lettuce dress,” and it looks funnier too.

And one of the satisfactions now is that a reader told me that her own daughter actually thought her dress would be real celery many years ago!  So it was nice to hear that the celery rang true too.  Another satisfaction was seeing the illustrations.  I laughed out loud when I saw the drawing of the big bear with rosy cheeks and kippah holding the rings.  He was much cuter than the bear I had imagined!

TWM: Do you have a critique group? Please tell us about it.
MGG: Formal critique group – no, or should I say “not yet?”  But I had originally taken this story and others to a Highlights Foundation Jewish children’s writers’ workshop (where I met you) and received some good feedback there, and then stayed in touch with some of the people from that group for a while.   More recently, I’ve been in contact with people I’ve met at the annual Jewish Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in New York every November, who have given me valuable feedback.  And my husband, who is my partner in all of life, has been a helpful reader with constructive suggestions.

TWM: As a first-time author, how did you find publication?
MGG: Keshet, a national organization that works for inclusion of LGBTQ people in Jewish life, ran a contest in 2011 (in cooperation with Kar-Ben) for a Jewish picture book that included LGBTQ family members, since there were none at the time.  It just so happened that I had recently completed my manuscript when I became aware of the contest and I submitted my story.  The first-place winner was The Purim Superhero, which Kar-Ben published in 2013.  My manuscript apparently won second place, and after The Purim Superhero was so well received, Kar-Ben was ready to do another LGBTQ book, and offered me a contract in 2014. So, thank you, Keshet!

TWM: Do you have any favorite books of Jewish content? Who has inspired you?
MGG: I have so many favorites!  As a child, I loved the All-of-a-Kind Family books.  And there wasn’t much else in Jewish children’s books back then. The books I loved best to read to my children were Eric Kimmel’s Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins and The Chanukkah Guest, Margot Zemach’s retelling of a Yiddish folktale, It Could Always Be Worse, Marilyn Hirsh’s retelling of a Talmudic story, Joseph Who Loved the Sabbath, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Why Noah Chose the Dove (illustrated by Eric Carle), and our beloved Chanukah baby book, Rainbow Candles.  Also, I loved Lights by Yehuda and Sara Wurtzel and my kids loved The Animated Menorah: Travels on a Space Dreidel by Rony Oren and Ephraim Sidon when they were a little older. More recent Jewish children’s books I love are Tilda Balsley’s Oh, No, Jonah, Jacqueline Jules’s Sarah Laughs, and Phoebe Gilman’s Something from Nothing.

All of these authors inspire me!

TWM: What’s next for you?
MGG: What’s next? I hope another book! I’m working on a few things.  One is a retelling of a less-well-known Bible story that inspires me.  Another is a holiday story.  And I’m also working on some non-fiction, computer-related “stuff,” since I have a master’s degree in computer science.

About Meryl G. Gordon

Meryl was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised on the south shore of Long Island near the beach, which is her favorite place in the world.  She graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy, as well as certification to teach math.  She holds a master’s degree in Computer Science from Iona College and is a former computer programmer/analyst. Meryl’s passion is supporting, promoting and advocating for lifelong Jewish education.  Meryl and her husband, David, live in Connecticut, where they raised their three now-grown children and where Meryl has been active as a volunteer in the Jewish community, serving on numerous committees and boards, and as a tutor in the public schools.

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