Friday, March 29, 2013

Common Tropes to Avoid

You've read the guidelines. You've taken a look at the magazine. (They always say "read the magazine for a good idea of the kind of work we accept.") But you are confused. You think your work is just as good as what you are reading. It could fit, right? Why not?

I'm now on both sides. I keep sending work out. But I'm also reading submissions and choosing work to include in *82 Review. In the past three months I have been startled by what I have read. The following are some points to be aware of when you submit your stories and poems. I've tailored them to my own taste, but that's not really the point. Just be hyper-aware of what you are doing, not necessarily as you are writing, but after you write.

The typical amount of submissions that are rejected per cycle: 70-80% (it is much higher with well-known magazines). Submissions I accepted for the first issue: 20%. I was shocked when I saw how much I had to reject. Now I know why it is hard to get work accepted for publication; it has to be original and interesting and fresher than anything else submitted. It has to have a spark, a knowing look, a little wink or punch in the stomach that leaves you satisfied ("yeah! I needed that!"). Something has to happen.

Here is a list of common tropes to avoid and some alternate suggestions. These are not absolute rules, but perhaps you can increase your chances of getting published by being aware of them.

Please no: stories with run over kittens (I've seen more than one!); pieces that contain abuse or cruelty with no redeeming reason, message, or knowledge gained
Better: stories with an edge (reader meant to feel slightly uneasy, but trusts the writer will lead them to important ground); something changes; something new is understood; reader feels it, gets it, is changed by it

Please no: poems about love (unless you are Shakespeare. And if you think you are Shakespeare you probably won't be published, either)
Better: poems about an object or place or time where love is shown subtly in the background or the use of language (verbs, in particular) conveys the emotion

Please no: pieces that contain accounts of visions via mind-altering substances
Better: geeked-out observations that are accessible and exciting

Please no: accounts of seeing the perfect unobtainable woman/man
Better: pieces that show a longing through the use of language and layered metaphor

Please no: writing about writing, or writing about thinking, or writing about thinking about writing, or writing about thinking about not writing
Better: a story that might have some meta elements or refer to a book or library, but is about something in the physical world

Please no: jokes
Better: a skewed look at the world that makes us see the world differently and laugh at something that was there all along, but that we never really noticed

Please no: explanations
Better: matter-of-fact story or poem that shows us the characters through their speech, how they dress, where they go, what they eat, etc, but doesn't explicitly tell us who they are

Please no: poem about the moon; poem that uses all the colors of the rainbow; poem that uses all the letters of the alphabet; other gimmicks that are more about "look at me" rather than "I'm trying to show you something."
Better: poem about a collection, poem about an ordinary object made fascinating that has some emotional depth or layers

Please no: first world problem or problem someone who is privileged would have, such as, "My Mercedes broke down"
Better: "The Mercedes that I stole broke down."

Please no: realistic narrative that goes into excruciating or mundane details about divorce, dating, college life 
Better: surreal, dreamlike, experimental narrative that may include actual events somewhat disguised, show a change, make the reader care about the character and really want to know what happens next

Please no: gratuitous raw or shocking language
Better: raw or shocking language used sparingly to illustrate a point or service the story

Please no: outsider or outcast wandering in search of self
Better: the outsider or outcast getting caught up in someone else's life or problem; it is much more interesting to see how the character interacts with someone or something else, how the character deals with the new problem

Please no: painful wait for someone's death (unless you are Faulkner) or the ruminating or anguish afterwards (yes, I know from personal experience: it hurts!)
Better: convey loss by having the character handle the possessions of the loved one and describe them or relate a story about the loved one's life; tell indirectly of the death and emotions through another event; have the feelings unfold as the story does

This is my own (humble) opinion and based on what I like to read. After you write, I only ask that you find a way to include the reader.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Library in a Mall

Just off of Highway 101 in Gonzales, California, we drove into a shopping center in search of a sandwich. As we parked, we were surprised to find, tucked between an auto parts store and a nail salon: the County Library. It was Sunday. It was closed. Two posters hung in the smoke-glass windows that said, "Read."

At first we thought it a strange place for a library, but then we thought better. What a great place for a library! Need new wiper blades? Check out a book while you're there. Get a book to read while you get your nails done. If you have to walk by constantly you might be more likely to go in. Accessibility (as I keep hammering and yammering about) is everything.

Even on Sunday a few people were hanging around. A chihuahua took a stroll, checking out all the parking spaces as usual, it seemed. Gonzales is a growing city of more than 8,400 people, the majority of them are of Hispanic or Latino origin, and are families with two or more kids, according the the city's website. As you can see, it's in the middle of an agricultural area. At the sandwich shop we watched a nine-year-old girl order for her father, who spoke little English, even though all the sandwich makers were bilingual. I wonder what kinds of books she checks out from the library.

Then, we were back on the road. In Morro Bay, we found otters reading in bed…

Now, what do we have to do to convince all the shopping malls that they need libraries, too?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Star 82 Review 1.1 Is Here!

Happy Spring! The first issue of Star 82 Review, the art and literary online and print magazine is on the website and available for purchase, should you so desire to hold one in your hands (yes!). Each work included is a gem; the process of selecting the work was like compiling a wonderful mix tape to share. The pieces contain humor and heart, quirkiness and poignancy. Every one of them stuck with me long after I was finished reading or viewing it. We've got some interesting objects as pivot points: a pineapple, a ruler, a baseball, a scarecrow, and more.

Piece of cake? Not exactly. I had to do a fair amount to get to this point. Chose the name and paid for the domain (about $20). Got a webhosting service and paid for the website (about $6-10/month). Got a technical someone to write the basic code for the web pages I designed and now I am managing basic html (with help) and using TextWranglerSet up a Submittable (free up until more than 100 submissions/month, then $10/month) account to manage and accept online submissions. Interacted with the contributors, sometimes lightly editing or asking for minor changes. I finally learned InDesign (I have an old version), but only by taking advantage of the myriad of videos online, particularly on setting up the document size, creating master pages, and using character styles. Set up a CreateSpace account (free) and uploaded a pdf to print and sell the print copies. Set up a Facebook page (free) for the magazine. Sent out emails. Ordered proofs. Made corrections. Ordered more proofs. Finally approved a proof. ($8 each x 3). Ordered ten copies for promotions ($50). Total projected annual cost: $154-$285. Projected income: $80. So, you see how it goes. I'm considering it part of my working-for-love or entertainment budget…

While many larger magazines are folding or charging submission fees to stay afloat, online and print-on-demand magazines are actually growing in number, particularly those that don't have the overhead cost of a print component. Additionally, they offer so much variety that there is a venue for nearly every writer, artist, and reader. As I examine the works in the new Star 82 I see that I'm looking for humor, a little edge, and a large dose of what it means to be human.

Even though I don't plan or expect to make any money from this venture (and I will never charge a submission fee) I'm learning a huge amount (about organizing and about writing and editing), meeting some lovely people, and am enjoying the ride. On to 1.2!

Thanks to the 1.1 Contributors for Their Wonderful Work!
  • Stephen Ajay
  • Hugh Behm-Steinberg
  • Lauren Guza Brown
  • William Copeland
  • Leonard Crosby
  • Marie C. Dern
  • Jane Downs
  • Gina
  • Jim Hair
  • Alan D. Harris
  • William D. Hicks
  • Jnana Hodson
  • Paul Hostovsky
  • Alastair Johnston
  • Maureen Kingston
  • Lisa Kokin
  • Ron. Lavalette
  • Jonathan Lethem
  • Rachel Smith
  • Judith Tannenbaum
  • Mary Whiteside & Alan Whiteside
Print: (and you can get it through Amazon to bundle with other books)

Facebook (this is new for me. I think I am supposed to ask you to LIKE us on facebook. Comments, randomness, and news are here):

Want to be considered for the Summer Issue 1.2 or know someone who would?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Spirituality & Printing in Tibet

Making art has always felt spiritual to me, as if it were a religion. But there is a place in Tibet, Derge Parkhang (founded in 1729), where the art and craft are inseparable from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Various communities in this mountainous region live in various valleys, but this particular one features a huge structure, a temple that contains over 200,000 woodcuts, all carved with the teachings of Buddha. It is not just a shrine where visitors make pilgrimages and do prostrations, and a monastary training young monks, but an active printshop that continues to print old Buddhist texts and to carve and print new ones today.

The Derge Parkhang (Sutra Printing House)
in the county seat of Derge,
Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Region, Sichuan
(photo courtesy of Dowdey/Meador)

In a recent informal talk in a lovely old Victorian house in Berkeley, California, Patrick Dowdey, a professor of East Asian Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan, as well as the curator of the Freeman Center for East Asian Studies, showed slides and videos of Derge Parkhang and explained the life and the printing and binding processes there. A couple of his videos from his trips to Tibet are below, and you can find more at his YouTube channel

Ten editions are printed every year. When I asked if they carved new blocks because the old ones wouldn't print anymore, Patrick said that they print new texts all the time. I was fascinated to hear that teachings were left "when they'd be needed" in the sky and under rocks so there would be "continuing revelation." The teachings would be passed on to a living lama in the form of dreams and he would transcribe them. That explained why there were so many blocks from over the centuries. I'm still mulling over the idea of invisible texts left in the sky…

How do the writings get made into books? First, certain young men who are trained in a standardized calligraphy copy the new teaching with ink onto paper. The paper is glued to a block and water is applied. The paper only sticks where the ink was and the remainder of the paper washes away. The block is handed off to the rough cutter, who carves the major areas, then to the fine cutter, who cleans it up beautifully. Patrick told us that the "Tibetans have the greatest knives." By using knives they've made themselves I imagine that they have a connection to the final piece as well. Both sides of the blocks are carved. While they work, if they listen to anything, they listen to Buddhist chants. A long but meditative process.

The man in the foreground is writing out the text of a book in standard calligraphy. 
The paper will be pasted to a board and used as a guide for cutting. 
The men outside are cutting boards. 
(photo courtesy of Dowdey/Meador)

Commercial paper is imported from inner China, which Patrick told us was higher quality, and better than the handmade paper made in the area: smoother and more receptive to ink. Handmade paper, made by the women (who only print images, not the teachings of Buddha), is "too chunky," he said. The book paper is dampened and sits overnight, then delivered to the printers in the morning, stacked and draped over the shoulders of young boys. 

Printing is done by hand, with a slanted board straddled between two people. The inker has a block of felt dipped in ink. They use commercial black ink for most texts; when the ink is washed from the block, it is saved and sold for medicinal and ritual purposes. They also use red ink, cinnabar (which unfortunately contains mercury), which supposedly "increases the [teaching's?] efficacy by eight times." The printer places the paper on the inked block and runs a roller over it. In Patrick's video, it looks like a dance.

Several more steps to binding involve: collating the sheets; threading a ribbon through each bundled book; stacking the books floor to ceiling in a vice; trimming the edges with a really big knife; painting the edges with red ink; then separating them and tying them up individually.

Here is a second video by Patrick the shows how they are stored and sold in the shop. The main supporters and buyers of the texts are Han Buddhists, foreign Buddhists, and the local people, in that order. 

Throughout the presentation I had not seen any women involved in the printing or binding. In the above video you might note that two women are balancing a log between them on their shoulders. Patrick remarked that, "The women do the heavy lifting." Tibet is heavily forested, so timber is plentiful. The woodblocks are "treated with butter" before they are stored, and the entire community of Derge Parkhang is made of wood and has survived "three crises" that might have involved burning it to the ground. Inside the temple is a shrine with a painting of the Green Tara, the female Buddha of "enlightened activity" who is considered to give protection.

Production Manager Dame and Dr. Padma'tsho from
the Southwest University for Nationalities
talking on a balcony over the courtyard at the Parkhang

(photo courtesy of Dowdey/Meador)

More information about the history and the people are in a book called Pearls of the Snowlands: Buddhist Printing from the Derge Parkhang that Patrick Dowdey wrote with Clif Meador (teacher and Director of Interdisciplinary MFA in Book and Paper at Columbia College Chicago and who has made artist books inspired by his travels). You can preview a few pages of the catalogue at the lulu site. It is thorough and has wonderful portraits of the people who live and work there as well as the craft processes and the exquisite and highly decorated buildings. It is also available online and free through the digital archive. The book was created to accompany an exhibit they curated both at the Fowler Museum at University of California, Los Angeles and at Columbia College Chicago in 2009. They are currently looking for a San Francisco bay area venue for the show.

The printery is closed October - April every year since there is no electricity. Even though most of the people have only a grade school education, they continue the printing tradition and have always fiercely protected the books and woodblocks housed there. Their beliefs, their craft, and their culture are integrated and bound together into daily life.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

That's (Book-Related) Entertainment

I don't know about you, but I am feeling the need for some entertainment right about now. We have a million options, granted, but I'd like to share some of my favorite book-related videos. They've been around for several years, but I watch them over and over. Each one, when I first saw it, made me want to dance or gasp or laugh. I found all of them mesmerizing, and share them with my classes every semester as examples of how the book can be pushed beyond the page.

The first one is called "Old-Time Film" by Barb Tetenbaum and Marilyn Zornado. They created this stop-motion animation by using old engravings and wood type that Barb has in her letterpress shop. If you like this toe-tapping video, with music by the Macrae Sisters, consider supporting the band, and consider supporting Barb and Marilyn by buying a copy of the video. It's worth it for the cool packaging, an original still and particularly for "Le Making Of," as they say in French.

Old-Time Film from Marilyn Zornado on Vimeo.

Now, hang onto your bonefolders, the next one is by Shitdisco, a former band from Glasgow, Scotland (they broke up in 2009). This is their music video called, "OK." It is clean, fun, and catchy. Watch it all the way until the end, it keeps getting better. 

For our third and final video, a quieter, eerie Western from the New Zealand Book Council, called "Going West." The audio may be tough to hear, but you can read the words in the book Going West  by New Zealand novelist Maurice Gee. Just so you know, the book doesn't do what it does except in the video.

Books make great props, as evidenced in several mainstream films such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (the diary), and I'm always happy when I find a book in a film. But I think it is much more fun to see books and letterpress prints in the starring roles than as the supporting objects.

Got a letterpress film or flip book up your sleeve? Barb and Marilyn are putting together Animated Type: A Showcase of Letterpress Animation. Deadline is December 1, 2013.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Aimee Lee: Korean Papermaking Journey

The creative impulse is mysterious; why we do what we do often eludes us, but looking back our actions may appear quite clear. It seemed so for Aimee Lee. In a talk at Mills College Library she indicated how she found prompts along the way that took her from music to book art to papermaking in Korea. She was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in 2008-09 to go to Korea to "[Excavate] Hanji's history, practice, and contemporary applications," according to her website. What she learned there is fascinating, the subject of her book, Hanji Unfurled: One Journey into Korean Papermaking.

Having grown up along the Hudson River in New York she didn't realize when she got to college at Oberlin, about forty minutes from Cleveland, Ohio, how "landlocked" she would feel. She gravitated towards artist books, but it wasn't until she began making paper that she found her water-centered world again. In grad school in Chicago, she played violin and made handmade sheet music, created interactive performances that included the music and the paper. In one slide she was shown playing violin in fingerless red gloves (which she knit from yarn sent by a friend).

For her MFA exhibition at Columbia College Chicago she made hundreds of handmade paper bricks and fashioned them into a hanging structure that could be illuminated from within. She told the audience that when her mother saw the structure she wondered if it was modeled after a famous ancient monument in Korea. Aimee said that when she went online to see a picture of the monument she began to cry. She had pictures of both her mother and her father with it, on separate occasions, when they had visited the structure as schoolchildren. Something was calling her. She felt she needed to follow her interest in paper to Korea, to find out more about Korean papermaking. Dard Hunter had written about it from a Japanese perspective in his book A Papermaking Pilgrimage to Japan, Korea and China (you can see a copy in the Mills College Library). Other than that, no English language instructions or source material existed.

It wasn't easy convincing her family why she needed to make paper. Papermakers in Korea are traditionally lower class, often farmers who turned to papermaking during winter for a source of income when there were no crops. It wasn't easy convincing a Korean papermaker to teach her. One dismissed her for being a woman and not being "strong" enough to be able to make paper. And they wanted to know why she wasn't looking for a husband, instead.

Traveling to another country to learn was perhaps more natural for her than for some artists. Having moved and traveled quite a bit, and usually doing her work through artist residencies, Aimee refers to what she does as "itinerant artmaking." When she makes paper in different states and countries she uses the native plants. She mentioned that people tend to value domestic plants because they have lasted over time. She told stories of how the mulberry plants from Japan won't grow in Korea because the "soil is different, the people are different, the air is different, and the water is different." And how a relative brought the tiny potatoes she preferred from Korea to plant in America only to be "horrified" at how large they grew in Wisconsin. In Korea, Aimee learned how to traditionally prepare the mulberry that grew there.

After the chemicals are assembled you can begin mixing up the vat and forming paper. For every one sheet of Korean paper, she explained, you have to form two pieces of wet paper. As you will be able to see in the videos she has posted, the paper is made at an angle, causing one end to be thicker than the other. By couching (pronounced "kooching") two pieces together in opposite directions, the one sheet will have a uniform thickness. Threads are used to separate the doubled sheets. I saw the doubling as a metaphor for the personal connections she has made over time, and for her impulses that have prompted her discoveries: music and art, her papermaking in the United States and in Korea, life on the East coast and in the midwest, and life and landscapes in Korea and America. 

Aimee has posted several videos about Hanji. Here is the book trailer, another video is below it. There are others you can search for. The book goes into detail both about her journey and about the Korean papermaking process. She said everything she talked about was in the book (and there is plenty more than I have reported!). But if you get a chance to see her speak in person, take advantage of it. She is enthusiastic, thoughtful, and highly knowledgeable. She clearly enjoys her craft. Where will she go next? Info about her schedule and more is on her website.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Arielle Coupe's Senior Printmaking Show at CCA

Although I teach in the Printmaking Program I do not always have the opportunity to meet and work with all of the printmaking students. I do try to see their senior shows, though, and am often surprised when I see bookwork (although I shouldn't be, since my colleague Nance O'Banion teaches a bookmaking class as well). In any case, I wandered into Arielle Coupe's senior show, felt her love of printmaking immediately, and was thrilled to see how she made several series of intaglio prints into flip books. Each image was printed by hand, one at a time: a huge amount of work. The title of the exhibit, "Pocketable" alluded to her miniature tableaus set up on the walls with rough wooden shelves acting as underlines to her tiny work.

Her title, guest book, two prints, and two hanging books
(yes, she climbed up there!):

She hung some of the prints in larger frames, as you can see, above, 
but it is easier to see the images in these cropped photos:

A sweet shelf:

 One of the hanging flip books (hand colored, I think),
bound with screwposts:

A student in my current class told me that Arielle once gave a presentation on Dieter Roth, which might have been her inspiration for hanging the books from the ceiling. His show, shown in the book Dieter Roth Books + Multiples: Catalogue Raisonne shows 
a picture of his books displayed likewise.

Dieter Roth's Exhibition: "Books and Graphics," Hayward Gallery, London 1973
(page 126)

Arielle, too, made use of light and shadow. 
She used the shelves and little familiar objects to provide 
a context, a frame, or anchor
 in our reality 
for her imaginative and otherworldly prints.

I can't help but want to start arranging little scenes
creating new little realities around the house…
Thanks, Arielle! 

Arielle Coupe's show was on exhibit February 17-23, 2013