Learning About Permissions

This isn’t really an issue most fiction writers or poets deal with but the obstacle of Permissions is — at least it seems to me — every nonfiction and academic writer’s worst nightmare.

This is the point in the nonfiction writer’s work where they must pause before quoting that entire poem or those seven lines of text and ask themselves: How much is this one going to cost me? Permissions are, of course, extremely important — this is a part of how we keep our publishers happy, our literary agencies happy, and our author’s intellectual belongings secure. However, when you’re endeavoring to write a book almost entirely based upon poetry analysis and examination, the costs can rocket upward so fast you’ll wake up on the moon and wonder how you got there.

If you are (or were) anything like me starting out, this reality never occurred to you. As a junior English/American Studies double major in undergraduate, I suppose I just thought that all my textbooks got together and decided to be socialists sharing all of their information and ideas with each other as freely and openly as the Beats shared theirs. Of course, this naïveté was soon to erupt when my editor (a truly darling and wonderful fellow), politely reminded me that I was going to need to ask permission to utilize A.G.’s “Howl” — and more than ask, I was going to need to pay for that permission. And pay a lot.

Fortunately for me though, when I went in to ask for permissions from both HarperCollins and the Wiley Agency, my apparent ineptness and blind ignorance about the realities of publishing costs actually earned me some much needed sympathy and guidance.  I wouldn’t bank on this happening to you as the people of the permissions world are incredibly busy folk (in fact, I’m sure they’re still scratching their heads wondering why they gave me anything at all) but the lesson to come of this is that the people working in permissions are not there to haunt or harvest you — they honestly are there to help you and want your work to succeed just as much as you, your editor, your family, and your pet goldfish Detective Clearwater do. In other words, don’t hate on the permissions guy just because he or she has to be the one to tell you, “This will cost at least XXXX,” and “Know that we’re never going to be able to let you have these permissions for this little again.” (Oy vey!)

In fact, my experience with the publishing industry has been one of profound understanding and collaboration, with everyone working with me as I wade my way through all the new and wily wilderness with extreme patience and generosity. My advice would be to always remind yourself that as a writer you are dependent upon the work and honesty of many, many other people who all have different goals and priorities than you do — so even if the price seems steep, even if the tone of their email doesn’t sound exactly cheerful, don’t take it to heart and don’t assume they meant to hurt or stop or hinder you. The art of collaboration necessitates both patience and the ability to recognize that there is a world outside your text, and that world does, in fact, hope you will succeed (even if it’s grumpy, frustrated, pricey, or distracted).

Keep on keepin’ on!

Also, some neat publishing opportunities:

The Humanities Education and Research Association’s Scholarly Journal: Interdisciplinary Humanities is a refereed scholarly journal, published three times a year.  — And they’re currently accepting submissions for articles pertaining to Service-Learning. (Submissions due by May 1st, 2012)

And,

Glimmer Train (literary magazine) currently has a Fiction Short Story contest open (submissions due by March 31st, 2012).

Bon chance!

Writing & Workshopping

Today in 1979, Ginsberg and P.O. headed off from Boulder to spend their weekend in New Orleans and New York. This is only a couple weeks after some anti-nuclear waste dumping protest work in Albuquerque. (See The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder for more information)

The Beats were always on the move — constantly in motion from one city to the next, from one country to another, from one reality to another; they traversed boundaries more often and more smoothly than most of us even hope to traverse our own regular days and routines. Today I could barely even get a word document to make the shift from one computer to another — some strangeness between saving a word doc on a Mac before moving it onto a PC.

And while my traveling is being bogged to a current minimum due to graduate school (although I will be spending time in Washington, Boston, New York, Pawley’s Island (SC), Dallas, and Austin this summer — finally, finally, my bones may move), I have been currently experimenting with different ways to channel A.G.’s constant desire to move as well as his keen ability to collaborate. Primarily I’ve been working with three different buds — E.B., H.S., and D.P. — in order to both move beyond the falsity that writing is a mountain to be scaled in solitary as well as to see my work shift and transform from world to world of these very different, very intelligent people’s perspectives, their varying gravities crunching and floating the words in different places, their unique air supplies making my organization seem dizzier or more cogent — and I have found that, with the company of excellent and honest feedback, my work is not only improving as they read it but is improving as I write it.

I’m not suggesting I’ve somehow reinvented the ancient workshop, but that perhaps I’ve simply rediscovered it for myself as I had long only ever found myself feeling happy but ultimately unimproved by surrounding myself with other authors who never seemed comfortable giving hard opinions (such as “this chapter just wasn’t interesting to me”) or with suggesting anything that might significantly change or challenge my “voice” or argument. Perhaps attempting to cross the boundary of solitude and then the boundary of trusting only the words and wisdoms of other writers (or, at least, of other writers in my field) will continue to help me progress in innovative and unforeseen ways.

If you haven’t had a friend or colleague (unrelated to your writing topic and/or style) read your work aloud with you, I suggest you try it. You may find you learn things the classic roundtable of critics hadn’t taught you — only by coming to our works through new and different perspectives with frank and honest conversation will we be able to stretch and discover new avenues and meanings within our writing, new possibilities for our writing, and new boundaries to cross over inside our writing.

Keep on keepin’ on!

Allen Ginsberg & The Trickster – Almost There!

Well folks, yesterday we reached the golden 70,000 words and now its on to the next ten, and however many after that it takes to make this sucker perfect (although I know deep down it’ll never be perfect — this is the torment of all writers).

I have been attempting to step back from this work even as I approach the end in order to give myself some much needed perspective over what chapters need tuning, which ones need total rework, and which ones don’t make any sense at all. It’s days like this that I wish I had Ginsberg’s network of writers and best minds to mail copies to (email probably now — loses some magic but also causes less grief over handwriting (and when it came to poor handwriting, the Beats were worse than doctors)) and receive feedback and honest, tough-love commentary from. Their system really was amazing! I know the bad rumor about the Beats is that they worked and worked without revision (thereby bypassing the need for some to consider their work as actual literary and/or poetic triumph). However, this is simply not true — even Kerouac gave his work thought and thought and thought. Although both Kerouac and Ginsberg are famous for having sat down and started writing, they didn’t just sit down to their first typewriter ever and write the first words they’d ever written. Ginsberg, after all, had been journaling extensively and intensely since he was eleven years old, writing on every scrap of paper he could tear off and reading every book around, considering every new idea that came across his plate.

And perhaps that’s just what I need to do — a good bout of journaling journaling, the kind that doesn’t take place online but which allows you to scrap and shove everything off your worldly desk and create a new, safe, and adventurous place for yourself, for you to remind yourself of the very best parts of you as well as unleash some of the very worst.

The goal for this week is to finish reading this Sherman Alexie book, journal for twenty minutes everyday, remind my fiance why he’s perfect, and reach 78,000 words. Hold onto your skirts ladies, as W. Carlos W. said, we’re goin’ walkin’ through hell (and hopefully somewhere a bit nicer as well!)

Keep on keepin’ on!

The Allen Ginsberg Papers

New York, New York is actually not my favorite place in the world — people aren’t angrier or ruder there than anywhere else, they just seem more isolated, ironically enough. Or perhaps I’m simply more isolated there. Either way, E.B., K.P.B., and I all made it safe and sound via Bolt Bus (our driver took real pleasure in calling everyone aboard “family” the entire time). From there, making it up to the Butler Library for our research passes into the Rare Manuscripts & Books section of the library seemed as though it would be easy enough but to our surprise:

“Sorry, we don’t have partnerships with JHU or GWU, so we can’t give you passes.”

This left us all rather astonished considering that A) it’s a library, not a bank or a club or a religious sanctuary and B) I had the print-out of an email discourse I’d shared with one of the Rare M&Bs Librarians detailing how I would be able to acquire a visitor’s pass.

Of course, when I explained this to the lovely gentlemen they were quick to say, “Oh, well we can let you into that department, sure.”

In other words, random visitors cannot come in to utilize regular old library books, but if we want access to your rare and irreplaceable documents, there’s no problem! Needless to say, there was plenty of flabbergast and hufflepuffling on our way upstairs — why in the world should these texts and resources be holed up in an elitist ivory tower to begin with? What were they frightened of? That there would be a rash of book thievings? Or maybe they just don’t want anyone but Columbia students to use their bathrooms — university libraries and their toilets! 

At any rate, from there things were smooth sailing all the way into the Allen Ginsberg Papers.Image

I was fortunate enough to get to spend the entirety of the afternoon there (despite their early close hours due to Spring Break), sifting through Ginsberg’s letters to Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, his father, Lionel Trilling, his brother Eugene, and vice versa.

Of course, what I was most excited to see was what types of literary magazines and political papers Ginsberg had kept lying about his apartment; I wanted a fresh angle on his thought processes, interests, and pastimes. And good ol’ A.G. didn’t disappoint —

The fellow kept everything from amateur, small-time small-time lit mags to freaky coloring books (given to him by fans) to grassroots political periodicals from a variety of small towns (often featuring him or another Beat) to lit mags dedicated entirely to LGBTQ materials. I felt as though I were meeting A.G. anew (although I will say I do not have a “Well, I met A.G. when…” story — it’s only through his words and biographies that I’ve come to have my own scholarly, literary crush on the guy). 

His letters were also, of course, a wonder on every page (even on those where he discussed the more “normal” business such as borrowing money from his father (Louis Ginsberg) or congratulating his brother on his first baby). Many of his letters are already published as books (check out: The Letters of Allen GinsbergJack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters or — my personal favorite — The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder) but many remain unpublished. Of course, when you visit a Special Collections or Rare Manuscripts library, you are typically allowed to take digital, no-flash photos of the materials which means that I now not only have the pleasure of housing many of these letters in my own (digital) files but that I also have plenty of time now (sort of) to try and decipher handwriting so garbled  it could be that Ginsberg had actually dictated to a Coyote, the poor Old Man scrawling down notes as best he could between claw, paw, and pencil.

Anyhoo, we’re on our way back from the bustle, cigarette smoke, and towering towers of NY to home home again Maryland where the further research and sifting through of these new files may commence.

And while some may argue that this is why all archival materials ought to be digitized — I must beg to differ. There is something magical about going to an archive and handling the primary documents your subjects created — it brings you closer to them, to the project and process. For example, during my work today I came  across a note A.G. had scrawled across the inside of an old, empty matchbook and I could see from the scruffing and scratching of the paper that each one of those matches had been well struck, possibly for one of those iconic cigs blowin’ smoke around his typewriter as his fingers flew about “Howl.” I swear in that moment I felt as though I could both hear and smell A.G. strikin’ up that final match whether for cig, joint, or warmth, see the little light dancing a soft glow across his beard. There is something about being there and handling the materials yourself that makes the whole process suddenly seem deeply real and freshly important to at least the primary person you’re sharing the research with — your subject.

Anyway, folks, the q’s from this morning still stand —

What most intrigues you about A.G.? What would you be most interesting in learning more about regarding A.G.?

And,

What title do you think might be a good, official fit for the book?

All business aside, I hope you all have smashing St. Patty’s Days!

Be safe & Keep on, keepin’ on

Getting Published

So, the goal for this book (Howling) when it started was really just for me — a lowly undergraduate — to explore the poetry of Allen Ginsberg as well as my burgeoning interest in Native American Studies.

Then things got out of hand (as they always seem to do) — wonderfully, horribly, morbidly out of hand. McFarland Publishing picked up the book and, like every first book for everyone who loves writing, I accepted, bouncing and cheering — the lighting in the kitchen that day was absolutely perfect for the moment, triumphant and bold. Of course, I accepted (of course) not realizing quite how wild things could  get — how I might come to question and fear myself as a non-Native attempting to write about and utilize the Native trickster Coyote through my analysis of “Howl” given my inability to escape my Euro-American-cultural-colonizer-whitewashed-knowledge base; how I might do the hearty works of Ginsberg, hearty works as “Howl,” a grand disservice through my attempted interpretations and close readings; how I might bore any future readers; disappoint past teachers and colleagues; insult possible future colleagues; humiliate myself; ruin my writing career before it even gets started; offend someone; insult someone; speak to no one..

Sometimes I think about this project, this project coming forward, the manuscript due a month and a half from now for peer review, set to be published in the middle of 2013, and I just dream about Delicious Connotations, my true hope (“pride and joy” ought to be reserved for works that are a fair bit better than this one), that was published ages upon ages ago in the wondrous little publication,  Ellipsis, out of Salt Lake City. Even if this one crashes and burns, perhaps I can always just lay low in Utah and write under a quirky pen name like Ruby Brew.

Anyway, I’m in the throes now — trapped between an angry email from G.V., encouraging emails from G.S. and G.M., old letters from A.G., uncertain emails from some old pal professors, final papers for my own MA work, a personal project reinterpreting Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, and a killer ripping deadline for some reviewers (however generous and kind) to slice my book’s throat and scrawl critiques across the sky with its blood. All and all, things are looking up, I think.

I’ve nearly completed the first full full draft — 65,000+ words, 200+ pages (reaching up for 75,000 as the approximate goal), no blood but definitely a few tears, some cold sweats, and sickly yellow-scented nightmares. It looks like another scotch for the evening, maybe mixed with some hot chocolate and hot, curried chick peas and green beans — looking forward to another day of typing not-so-covertly in the office and wishing for the solace of the Peabody, where the writers go but cannot go (apparently, despite it being a public library, the toilets are private for JHU kiddos only — bear this in mind researchers the next time you sit down with a Diet Coke for company at the Peabody).

Keep a head up, keep looking forward (with a few peeks around), and I’ll keep sending out all the best vibes that I can.

Looking forward to Howling: Allen Ginsberg & The Trickster in “Howl” in 2013!!