(A version of this was first published at http://www.loft.org)
I first went public when I painstakingly printed the poem “God Made the Birds” in my Big Chief tablet and read it aloud to my mom, who was sweating over a pressure cooker at the time. She responded, “That’s very nice, dear. Now go write something else.”
And I did. For me it all led up to publications in newspapers, magazines, anthologies and finally books of my own. I self-published a poetry chapbook, which turned out to be the perfect place to start. The process taught me about ordering, themes, visuals and the printing process itself. I was lucky to have the help of Coco Connolly, an amazing artist. Plus, I was working in marketing and advertising, and that gave me more valuable experience, skills and contacts.
As Deborah Keenan has been known to say, “Publishing is a crap shoot.” One never knows the moods or whims of any editor. Editors for print and online literary magazines change regularly and lit mags often go bust. Still, my poems have been widely published. Why? Simply because I sent them out. When I received rejections, I sent them somewhere else. I never gave up and I’m still like that.
When my first non-fiction book, Shadow Mothers: Stories of Adoption and Reunion, was published, I taught myself how to apply my marketing knowledge to get my book into the world. Self-promotion is often difficult for creative types, but it’s a necessity. And it can result in some amazing outcomes, as I have learned.
The play, “Watermelon Hill,” was inspired by my adoption-related works. The History Theatre in St. Paul contacted me after hearing me interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio. Lily Baber Coyle was hired as playwright. Lily and I spent the next two years interviewing people and conducting research for the play, which ran in 2001. It was the experience of a lifetime, learning about the theater and seeing parts of my own life experiences portrayed on stage.
This past winter I got word that the History Theatre will be staging “Watermelon Hill” again. It’s a whole new production starring some great actors, including the fabulous Sally Wingert. (Mark your calendars if you’re interested. The play runs March 19 through April 10, 2016.)
The universe can offer some remarkable rewards if we do our jobs with trust and diligence.
I have designed the class, “To Publish and Present,” especially for poets who are ready to go public with their work. This class is also for people who want to be more widely published. I loved the idea of sharing what I’ve learned over the years and giving back to my community of writers.
In this class we fine-tune our poems through structured critique in workshops as well as personal response from me. Participants are given practical guidelines and resources to maximize publishing efforts. The final section of the class focuses on how to most effectively present to the public. I offer this information in private one-on-one sessions, too.
Never give up on your hopes and dreams. Rewards are within reach.