Following up on some of the book trends we presented at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Author Day in October of this year, let’s take a look at the present status of the book market for all of you who are presently in it, or are trying to have your book active for sales. A new year, as book publishers are releasing statistics on sales for the year is a good time to do that.
First of all, ebook sales have slowed somewhat. They looked to be heading towards 40% a couple of years ago but now are steady at about 30% of all books sold. That is a tidy, strong percentage but the real news is that print books have held their own, reduced, yes, but still in contention.
Why? Probably the rush to Kindles and other formats when ebooks were announced in 2007 was part novelty and part curiosity. It had to be also real desire to enjoy books in a portable and handy way without the need for a clunky chunk of published and bound paper you had to carry around in your hand because it didn’t fit into purse or pocket. That has slowed.
Anyway, ebooks still outsell hardcover books. Hardcovers have fallen to 25% of the market, so those cloth or cardboard covered volumes with jackets seem to have diminished in popularity. Old hat but still there. It’s paperback books that are being picked up online and in the few bricks and mortar places that sell books any more.
And speaking of bookstores, it’s interesting to see how creative the bookstores have grown as they’ve had to fight for a place in the market. Downtown, Indy Reads has a hundred lively arts events and marketing ideas and public service efforts which make that place jump with energy and may help define the bookstore of the future.
But that doesn’t erase the stark truth: bookstores continue to die in spite of their best efforts. I think of my local, Carmel, Indiana, Barnes and Noble: full of interesting items to entice the customer. The shelves of books have shrunk, of course, but there are still several end caps and displays and they are attractively marked so the reader can find genres and interests. The Nook promotion stand tries to entice readers into the new format for reading. The store is loaded also with a huge selection of children’s books (a successful genre in the book publishing world), seeming to display a good 25% of the space towards the back of the store. Puzzles, CDs and DVDs, gifting items, closeouts, stationery and other paper and cloth bag items are attractive and colorful. And over at the side of the store the cafe is still putting out Cheesecake factory desserts, simple lunches and lots of coffee and tea choices.
Still, if you check out the figures for Christmas sales for B&N you see that sales fell, and plummeted 60% for Nook compared with last Christmas season’s sales. This company’s digital division, Nook, is being obliterated by Amazon’s ability to offer cut-rate prices (line leaders) to attract customers into the larger site, which seems to work. Some Amazon Kindle best-sellers are 1/3 lower at least than prices for comparable B&N Nook offerings. Barnes and Noble has been, and still is, in serious trouble. Analysts point out that readers buy books on line now. It is just that simple. I know I do, at least partially.
What does this mean to you, the present or future author, member (we hope) of Indiana Writers Center? First, your creative effort can still be bought if your book is presented to an agent or directly to a small press. Writers’ Center classes give you tips on how to organize your ideas into a polished piece of writing, how to gather them into a book and how to seek publication. Check the offerings out, learn and grow and sprout a book.
If you are considering self publishing, your door is open even wider than before. As bookstores fade, other means of reaching readers proliferate. Self published print books, combined with ebook sales, are accounting for about 35- 40% of the books sold in America today. And it is in the ebook market that self published books are still growing fastest. Amazon Kindle Direct and Smashwords, self publishers, saw adding author to produce their books grow in these divisions. But here’s the news and the trouble: sales have not followed. You can easily get your book posted for ebook sales; it takes only a few days and a completely edited manuscript. But sales? Slumping in 2014 beyond what anyone was predicting. Authors are disappointed and seek the reason. Surely the faddish nature of the easy posting of millions of ebooks has diminished for readers. Then too, Amazon’s new subscription service, Kindle Unlimited gives readers easy choice from a restricted site.
Register this: your book can be put out in a variety of ways but it will only sell well if readers know it exists. That opens the door for the vital missing link in all of this book uncertainty: promotion, promotion, promotion (not location location.) And it must be done by you.
Nancy Baxter, Senior Editor at Hawthorne Press
“No one else alive had known him like they had; no one could return that faint submarine ping.” ~ You Came Back by Christopher Coake. Mark, the protagonist of the novel, speaking about his ex-wife and deceased son, voices an achingly beautiful truth of what it means to be really known by someone else. The ninety-minute interview I did with Christoper Coake cannot begin to “return the ping,” but hopefully begin a reader’s process of knowing him. Chris, as he prefers to be called, describes his writing as “entering into conversation.” He and I entered into conversation at the Indiana Writers Center Gathering of Writers event on Saturday, November 16, 2013 where he was featured as the keynote speaker.
I began by asking Chris what it felt like to be named by Granta as one of the twenty best young American novelists, a publication that has published such literary greats as Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, and Sylvia Plath. “Pants wetting terrifying,” he answered. He smiled as he said it, as he explained the three day wait to find out exactly why Granta had contacted him (after exchanging voicemails and emails) as an anxious time. “I thought they just wanted me to submit a story, but I wasn’t sure.” As we know now, they were notifying him of his selection as one of the twenty best. They also requested a new short story to appear in the issue. “I felt I had to write a story that would hit it out of the park because I was on the twenty best list.” He was under pressure, as all writers are at times, but he emphasized, “I love this writing life, even with all the anxiety. It is a good problem to have.”
I reminded him of a quote about Granta made by The Observer that Granta “has its face pressed firmly against the window, determined to witness the world.” I asked Chris is he feels, as a writer, that he has his “face pressed firmly against the window, determined to witness the world”? He answered with a quick and definitive, “No.” He sees his role, “perhaps like many other authors,” to be writing with a sense of locality, even when addressing universal issues, adding that “each author has his or her own cultural and personal references.” Chris recognizes that his particular references, among others, are grief and loneliness. He continued that many American writers are just that – American writers, American centric. He suggests that American authors can speak well to the theme of isolation, but with America becoming more and more integrated into the global community, there may be a need, and desire, to write from a broader viewpoint. (Chris has not traveled in any extensive way, but his novel has been translated into German, French, and Italian.) He laughed quietly and said, “Maybe I will write the Great American novel, though. Then again, maybe that is not relevant or necessary to do so.” It seemed he was debating the idea as he spoke.
I almost whispered my next question about his themes of death in both his novel You Came Back and short story collection We’re In Trouble Now. I prefaced my question with “Chris, you approach the theme of death with respect and tenderness. I understand that your first wife died at an early age. How did you come to the place where you were able to write about the topic of death?” He answered, “It was difficult, but I needed to write about it and about the prospect of someone living without hope, within the boundaries of a finite life. It was many years before I was able to write about it. I wanted to open up questions about what love is, what happens when the rational meets the irrational.”
I changed the subject for a moment and asked him what three things, besides his computer, are on his writing desk. “A coffee cup with a lid and I don’t know what’s inside of it, a Tylenol bottle because of a bicycle whiplash, and audio speakers to listen to music without lyrics, heavy metal.” The topic of heavy metal music segued into the next question.
“Who is the most intriguing person you have ever met?” He named more than one. “Thurston Morre of Sonic Youth (the heavy metal band). Also, the cast from Mystery Science Theater that visited campus. And a friend of his who is a magician.” We all “make art in different ways.” His students intrigue him and influence him as well. Chris describes himself as a “lawful guy.” The students hold him accountable to his own writing rules (laws). “They also keep my ego in check.” He loves the university life because a university is a place “where we are making things and making things better.”
He wrote most of his latest book on campus, late into the night. Picture this: he sits in his university office, alone, Chris the only person in the building (even the cleaning crew is finished for the night) writing a story with strong themes of grief and ghosts. When it is time for him to return to his car and head home, he has to pass a campus memorial, a homage to a murdered policeman. It’s after midnight, it’s dark, Chris is alone, and his characters are his only company. He said he “jogged quickly past the memorial each night.” And he doesn’t even believe in ghosts.
The storyline of the deceased son as ghost prompted my next question. I quoted science fiction writer, David Brin who said, “If you have other things in your life – family, friends, good productive day of work - these can interact with your writing and the sum will be all the richer.” My question was twofold:
Is You Came Back ever categorized as science fiction? What are the other things in your life?
Chris replied that usually his book is described as “literary fiction.” Occasionally it may be described as “horror” but it does not fit that genre. “Bookstores need to know where to place your book,” that his does not fit in science fiction. The conversation turned to the idea of bookstores and electronic books and self-publishing. (We do come back to the topic of other things in his life.)
He says that “bookstores curate, electronic book distribution does not.” There is a sense of old school vs. new and that Chris embraces progress, but he is firmly loyal to the traditional publishing route. “Until it’s not there any longer, I will continue to publish through established publishing houses.” I asked him if the marketing side of the writing business is better handled by publishers than the authors themselves? “I don’t have a marketing bone in my body, so yes, for me it is.” He is happy to speak at conferences and be interviewed, however. He knows writers that have “platforms” and push their work, but that is not his style.
Now, for the “other things in his life.” Teaching at the University of Nevada is a large part of his life and Chris has remarried and has two dogs. He showed me a picture of his dog, named Dashiell Hammett, a mix of German Shepherd and Beagle, who loves veggie smoothies, cocks his head when listening to humans and responds to the names of his dog toys. One toy in particular is a football that the family calls “fumble.” One of the other things in Chris’ life is football and Dashell watches it with him. When the referee calls “fumble” Dashell retrieves his toy “fumble.” The enjoyment Chris derives from his pets is obvious as he speaks about them. “Dogs keep you humble and in the moment.” The other dog, Kona is a black lab rescue dog and “ate their green couch.”
Chris has a new novel in the works. I asked him to tell me about it. Because it is currently a work in progress, he says that the book may turn out differently than he describes now. It is somewhat violent in theme and explores a vast period of time of the main character, ages sixteen to forty. About an Indiana boy who ends up on a Nevada political compound, the story is “action packed” and “told from several characters’ perspectives.”
Our conversation returned to his recent book You Came Back. There is a cultural reference in the book about the day of 911. He wanted to frame his character’s grief “in the context of national grief.” Much of what the character experiences, our nation experienced. His personal grief, the character’s grief can seem too self-centered, otherwise. “Grief is not exclusive.” The day after the towers were hit, his professor said, “Art still matters, I think.” Perhaps that is another reason, Chris included the event in the story.
I mentioned to Chris that each page of his novel contains poignant lines, including even his “Acknowledgments” page. It reads, in part, “If you would like to imagine the author of this book as a solitary fellow, working alone and friendless, please close the book now.” With the exception of the late nights at his campus office! The acknowledgments are generous and comprehensive.
The interview was coming to a close, so I asked him for what I call a Coake quote. “No means go to work on it.” A rejection of a written piece means “it’s not ready yet” and the writer must “persevere through criticism.”
There is a simple, elegant line in You Came Back. It is spoken by the character Allie, girlfriend to Mark. “Allie loved playing make-believe.” The line is perfectly fitting (on many levels) for the scene; a woman dealing with life by pretending. Perhaps too, writing - that pretending through fiction - allows the writer (and the reader) to face reality. Chris does “not believe in ghosts” but by “playing make-believe” in his fiction, he confronts the matters that haunt. His writing will take you there.
Christopher Coake is the author of the novel You Came Back (2012) and the collection of short stories We’re in Trouble (2005), which won the PEN/Robert Bingham Fellowship. In addition, Coake was listed among “Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists” in 2007. His stories have been published in several literary journals, and anthologized in Best American Noir of the Century. A native Hoosier, he received his M.F.A. in fiction. Born and raised in Indiana, he was the 2012 recipient of the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Regional Author Award.
A member of the Indiana Writers Center, Deanna Morris holds an MFA from Butler University. She has published stories, poems and articles in numerous places.
“Flying Island,” the Writers Center’s literary magazine was founded in the 1980’s by director Jim Powell, and provided a publishing opportunity for Indiana writers well into the 1990’s. It was always fun to see who in our writing community would be represented in the magazine. If I’m remembering correctly, there were some pretty groovy launch parties at the Alley Cat in Broad Ripple, which was the scene for many readings in those days.
It morphed into “Maize” for a while. Then David Hassler revived it a while back and did several broadsheet editions. It was great to see the magazine back in print and to read the works of IWC members and friends, but…print is expensive. We just couldn’t keep it going.
Enter online magazines, factor in David Hassler’s determination to make “Flying Island” work one way or another, thank those who contributed to our power2give project, “Where’s the Next Kurt Vonnegut—” and, shazaam, it’s back.
We’re excited to announce the launch of the online version of “Flying Island,” which is now accepting submissions on a rolling basis from residents of Indiana and those with significant ties to Indiana. Editors David Hassler (fiction), Julianna Thibodeaux (nonfiction) and JL Kato (poetry) are waiting to hear from you!
Fiction: up to 1,000 words
Nonfiction: up to 1,000 words
Poetry: up to three poems, no more than 30 lines each.
Jenny Browne speaks of stolen trees, trees that were planted as a memorial to her brother-in-law, as we sit at dinner recently one October evening in Indianapolis. She has just taught a class at the Indiana Writers Center and the topic at dinner was initially her poetry, but as the conversation turned to life experience, I realized that like uprooted trees, Jenny has been yanked from home and planted in places across the globe. Not because of an unkind wind (or person like the tree robber in her poem), but by an overwhelming yearning which she describes as the need to “notice,” to “pay attention,” to “seek out mystery and beauty,” to be “surprised.” Much of the universal flavor of her poems comes from such purposeful wandering.
The questions and answers below are from a transcript of the email interview. Had time permitted, we’d have conducted the interview in person, but Jenny was heading back to San Antonio. The generosity of spirit in Jenny, as both poet and person, certainly overcame any geographical distance to the interview. Her biography is rich and includes references to her fellowship from the James Michener Center for Writers, the Texas Writers League and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her latest book, Dear Stranger is now available. She has published two previous collections, At Once and The Second Reason. So, sit back, enjoy the interview below and get to know Jenny. With her candid answers, she will be no stranger to you. Her books may well become some of your closet friends.
Deanna Morris (DM): Someone once said that writers are on the outside looking in, another said writers are observers. It seems with your travels you have been a little bit of both. Where have you traveled?
Jenny Browne (JB): My favorite saying about writers, and of course I can't remember who said it, is that a writer is someone who notices what they notice. A lot of writing, and especially writing that comes out of travel begins with that premise, that hope that travel, like poetry, reminds me to not be so oblivious, to pay better attention. There is line in one of the poems in my new book about a one blue parakeet in a cage of three green. I carried that weird little details for years. From El Salvador I think. And yes, I've had the immense opportunity to travel a good bit. My first big trip (out of the Midwest) when I was 19 was to Sierra Leone, West Africa. It might has well have been the moon. I was hooked.
DM: What was the most intriguing place?
JB: I accidentally went to Tibet once. Seriously. I was in Western China in the mid-90s and at the time you had to join a "tour group" to fly into Tibet, and I ran into a group of people who needed another person on their group ticket. So I went. And the air! The temples! The steady ticking of prayer wheels. It remains a place of such mystery and beauty in my imagination that I'm almost afraid to ever go back.
DM: How has traveling affected your writing?
JB: I sort of trust that everything affects my writing in some way, just the practice of paying attention to how complex and beautiful and hard and weird it can feel to be a human. But I do think travel, at least the kind I've most often sought, gives us a great opportunity to surprise ourselves, to be embarrassed and awestruck, to be snapped out of familiar patterns and perceptions. Anything that does that seems good for writing.
DM: What is the most important message(s) you want to convey in your writing?
JB: I guess I shy away from the word "message" a little, but maybe I shouldn't. There is a line in one of the poems in the new book, a poem about marriage that says. "Nothing is what we thought." Maybe that is my "message." I want to write poems that do more than think, maybe because thinking is so slippery. want poems that feel like they live in the physical world, that move around in their imperfect, broken, temporary bodies, and do so with kindness and bravely.
DM: What poem have you written in your newest book that means the most to you and why?
JB: The first poem "The Multiple States of Matter" is in part about a friend who died a hard death, and it was a hard poem to write. I guess it is also about my resistance my death itself, which is of course the human condition. f one of my goals is to write poems that are both very particular and also somehow universal, and I think it is, then I'm proud of the way this poem does that, at least I hope it does that.
DM: Where do you get your energy? :) (Jenny was enthusiastic, untiring, beyond energetic as she taught the class at The Indiana Writers Center. Students were mesmerized.)
JB: To quote Lady Gaga, "I was born this way." That, and good coffee.
DM: Who is your favorite poet?
JB: I'm going to rephrase this to read: Who is your favorite poet today? (Too much pressure the other way.) These days I am re-reading all of Pablo Neruda, which is a lot, and I remain wholly stunned by his range and registers, both in content and craft. A giant. Chile's Whitman. The short list of poets I return to often include: Hopkins, Williams, Rich, Levertov, Berryman, Clifton, Hass, Merwin, Komunyakaa…and so many more. They are on the shelf I can reach from the desk where I'm typing this. I am also really in love with Brenda Hillman's new book.
DM: What is your favorite poem?
JB: That's even less fair of a question. I recently wrote about Gerald Stern's amazing poem "I Remember Galileo" and it remains one of many favorites for some of the reasons I've talked about here. And it has a brave and terrified squirrel in it. http://voltagepoetry.com/2013/02/19/jenny-browne-on-gerald-sterns-i-remember-galileo/
Note to reader by DM: Jenny is right. Asking what the favorite poem is … not fair. It’s impossible to answer.
DM: You've been quoted as saying that poetry "gives voice to human experience in a way that no other kind of writing does.” Will you please elaborate on that?
JB: Did I really say that? :) Maybe what I meant is that poetry is a kind of singing. And there is something about breaking into song, about being moved to not just speak to an experience but to make the experience itself out of words.
DM: For your class at the Indiana Writers Center you quoted Russian writer Viktor Scklovsky, "Art makes the familiar strange so that it can be freshly perceived." Will you please explain how you use that approach in your own writing?
JB: Scklovsky, and others, are good reminders to stay open in art and life, I think. I know I always take this road home, but what would happen if I went this way? What if I decided that the person I wake up to every day could surprise me at any moment, that I didn't know him, or myself at all. It's really comfortable (for me anyways) to know what I think and what I'm going to say next. It takes practice (again, for me anyways) to stay open to not knowing, to trying the opposite of what I expect etc.
DM: You travel widely geographically. Do you "travel" widely in your reading? (Reading authors from a variety of cultures and countries?)
JB: I sure try to. I was obsessed with a recent feature in poetry magazine about Afghani women poets. I'm reading Ellen Dore Watson's new translation of Brazilian poet Adelia Prado, which is stunning. I love Transtromer. When I used to work as a poet in the schools, I often used Naomi Shihab Nye's amazing international anthology This Same Sky. Great for kids and grownups both.
DM: When will you return to Indianapolis and teach another class? This interviewer/student looks forward to that!
JB: Texas is home now, but I always like to return to Indiana. Anytime, but especially in the summer, when the tomatoes are ripe. I want to write a poem that tastes like an Indiana tomato.
To readers of this interview:
As autumn is stepping aside for winter, summer seems a long time away. May summer come quickly, the tomatoes ripen on time, and Jenny Browne visit us once again. In the meantime, I will keep company with her poetry.
Playwriting is alive and well at the IWC. Here's a blog post from Jeffrey Fites, a member of Andrew Black's advanced playwriting class. Want to write a play? Consider taking the next class Andy offers. He's a great teacher!
Questions? Call our office (317-255-0710) or e-mail (email@example.com)
The week before my first class at the Indiana Writers Center, I heard a remark on NPR that had a foreboding reference to writers’ workshops. The writer being interviewed suggested the experience was akin to being dragged through a cactus patch by wild horses. Having an aversion to cactus needles and overly energetic equine, I was not looking forward to the experience.
(Actors have just finished reading Act One of JEFF’s play.)
The morning I arrived at Andrew Black’s class, there were no wild horses in the parking lot, just a 2003 Mustang, and no cacti, although there was pleasant landscaping on the grounds near the building. Inside, the atmosphere was just as peaceful and congenial.
Since we are discussing playwriting or playwrighting, as some call it since it can be hard work, let me illustrate in play form how Andy always finds ways of reinforcing one’s confidence, even when the plot is rather "thin."
Well, that’s the end of the first act. I’m not really sure how I am going to begin Scene One in Act Two.
Well, I found it fascinating that every character was violently killed by the end of the first act. However, you might consider allowing two or three characters to remain alive, so they have something to do in the second act...Just a thought, unless, of course, the rest of the play is about the ghosts of characters past.
No, this is definitely a love story -- without ghosts. Having live characters would make Act Two a bit easier to write. It possibly would be more interesting for the audience than having an empty stage for the second hour.
Possibly...I think you are on the right track now Jeff. Hopefully it is a track not well-traveled by freight trains. One other thing, you might consider not making this a children’s play. The bloody rampage in the final scene of Act One might be a tad intense for five-year-olds or at least for their parents. Just a suggestion.....
It is absolutely true that Andrew has tremendous patience as he accentuates the positive. Likewise, my fellow students were insightful, but always kind in their suggestions. Their feedback was invariably helpful and resulted in numerous rewrites that improved the play.
While I didn’t write a love story featuring a bloody rampage that killed every character in Act One, I did complete a short play titled "Unheard Wishes." It is about a truly good man, named Jacob Cohen, who becomes homeless after a series of personal tragedies. One day in Central Park, as he searches for food in a trash can, Jacob finds an ancient bottle. You guessed it. There is a genie residing in this low-rent bottle. He is a hard-of-hearing genie, which causes its own problems. This will be a day that brings about unexpected changes for Jacob Cohen.
The play was accepted for a formal reading as part of the Theatre by the Bay’s Original Plays Festival in August in Bayside, New York, across the bridge from Manhattan.
I offer my sincere thanks to Andy and my fellow students for helping me shape the play into a work will come to life later this summer.
Every spring, the Indiana Writers Center
has a booth at the Broad Ripple Art Fair, which is held on the grounds of the
Indianapolis Art Center. I love getting there to set up on the morning of the
first day, peppy music on the sound system, volunteers and staff zipping around
on golf carts, artists rolling back the front of their tents to reveal their
This year there was the smell of rain
from the night before and the smell of lilacs from the huge bushes behind our
booth. The smell of steak and onions and mushrooms sizzling on the grill wafted
over from the nearby steak tent and coffee, from the Hubbard and Cravens booth
next to it.
Closer to opening time, there was the
“Hey! Hey! HEY!” of sound checks. Artists roam around, checking out each others’
booths, chatting, sometimes taking notes. Volunteers go booth-to-booth,
bringing cold bottled water, checking to see if everything’s okay.
When the gates open, a steady stream of
people begins—eventually making its way to our booth in the east parking lot.
Most give us a glance and walk on by. Sometimes people hesitate and we call
out, “Are you interested in writing?” Some laugh and move on. Some politely
say, “No, thank you.” Some instinctively raise their hands, palms out, as if to
fend off the specter of their high school English teacher—and can’t get away
fast enough. Which always makes us laugh.
The fun part is when people say, “Yes.”
Sometimes they’re young people,
beginning life in the “real” world and finding it difficult, if not impossible,
to write as they did in high school or college. Some are middle-aged, with a
secret dream of writing, but clueless about how to start. Some are older and
want to leave a legacy of memories to their families.
Some say, “You can make me a writer?”
And we say, “If you let go of the idea
that it’s going to perfect the first time and are willing to rethink and revise
as many times as it takes to get a finished, polished piece of writing, yes, we
Occasionally, though, a person like this
girl, a recent graduate of a prestigious private school, comes by:
Me: Hi, are you interested in writing?
Girl: I am a writer. I’ve been published
I tell her about the Writers Center. Our
classes, our very excellent faculty, our Gathering of Writers.
Girl: I don’t believe you can teach
Me: Well, I have to disagree with you
there. I’ve been doing it for about forty years now,
and I guarantee that a good creative
writing teacher can help people become better writers.
Girl: I don’t think anyone should tell a
writer there’s something wrong with their writing.
Me: But that’s not what teaching
creative writing is about at all. Writing is a craft and you need to learn it,
just like painters. Have you heard of the painter, Paul Klee.
Me: Picasso then. The sketchbooks from
when he was young are full of beautifully drafted drawings. He learned the
“rules,” then broke them. But his understanding of the craft of writing
underpinned the great paintings he went on to make.
I explain my nifty idea about how what
you know in your head, feel in your heart and see in your mind’s eye are not
words, that you literally have to translate these things into words—which is
hard enough, but then you can’t read what you’ve written and get a fix on
what’s actually there because you can’t separate the words on the page from the
ideas in your head. Thus, the creative writing teacher (or any good reader) is
necessary to help you see what’s on the page and what’s still in your head.
Girl: Hostile stare.
Me: So. Where are you going to college
in the fall?
Me: Wow! Lucky you. They have a fabulous
creative program there.
Girl: (Sets down the brochure and
schedule of classes I’d given her, steam practically coming out of her ears.) I said, I don’t believe in telling people how to write.
And walks away.
All right, then, I thought. Good luck
with that writing career.
And remembered, as I often do, this
sustaining quote from Richard Bausch:
“Every book written anywhere is written
a little at a time, over time, in a lot of confusion and doubt. The doubt is
your talent. People with no talent usually don't have any doubt.”
The aspiring writers for whom this rings
true are the ones we love to work with, the ones who benefit from what the IWC
has to offer. If you’re one of them, check out what we have to offer!
Many thanks to those of you who donated to this project. We're thrilled to say that we reached our goal and will be able to pay $500 stipends to five our our fabulous interns.
One of the coolest things in the world is to stand in the middle of a classroom surrounded by children with their heads bent, writing furiously, no sound but the scratch of pencils on the page. A very cool thing is to listen to them read their stories aloud. It’s wonderful to see how proud—and often surprised—they are at having written so well. But the coolest thing of all is to put a book in the hands of a young writer and watch her face light up when she opens it to find her own story inside
Every summer, The Indiana Writers Center makes this happen every summer with "Building a Rainbow," a six-week creative writing program that takes a difficult academic skill—writing—and makes it fun, personal, and empowering. Working one-on-one, IWC instructors, college interns, and volunteers guide a diverse group of 130 at-risk young people, aged 6-14 through series of steps in which they remember moments in their own lives, write them down, and shape them into finished pieces of writing. Over the summer, they become better, more confident writers. They also learn that they have stories worth telling and voices that deserve to be heard. At the end of the program, students receive a paperback anthology of all of the stories written that summer—and they can hardly wait to look inside and find their own.
Gifted, committed college interns are crucial to the success of our program. In addition to giving young writers quality attention, they also produce the anthology of student stories and create a short video that is shown to students and their parents at the final celebration. And they learn, too!
"I’m blown away by the power of children,” a 2013 intern said. “I had no idea they had so much to say with such unique voices.
Most of our interns work several jobs to make ends meet. We'd like to be able to offer them a modest stipend for their significant contributions to our summer program.
The Poetry Salon started approximately thirty five years ago under
a different name and with a different
format. From the beginning The Writers’ Center of Indianapolis, (now The Indiana
Writers Center), had a core of people interested in writing poetry and so
founded various workshops in poetry, both reading and writing. All of these
were of the classic variety where people sat around a table while manuscripts
were passed in a circle to everyone in the class. There was usually a teacher
(the teacher sometimes knew just a little more than his
students) and he/she ran the class by making sure everyone got a chance to read
his or her poem(s) along with encouraging commentary and criticism from others in the
group. These criticisms were aimed at improving the style and quality of the
writing. Of course the quality of the criticism itself depended largely on the
sophistication and experience of the group as a whole. There was no attempt to
make moral judgments about the content of a poem or to make pronouncements
regarding form, rhyme, or lack thereof. What was encouraged was the making of
an effective metaphor and the right word choice and also the reading of poetry,
both classical and modern so that William Blake or A. E. Housman might be read in
one breathe and W. S. Merwin or Wallace Stevens, or Sylvia Plath might be read
in the next. If a person had nothing new of their own to contribute at some
particular meeting one might read one of his or her favorite poems by someone else and the group could
comment upon that.
The Poetry Workshop from which the Poetry
Salon derived was run by Kevin Corn and Richard Pflum from a previous program
which was started by Thomas Hastings. Under the Korn-Pflum régime it was
decided there would be no term limit and that the workshop should continue as
long as there was life left in it. Later Korn decided to go back to school to
earn his PhD in religious studies. This left Pflum running the show on his own
until Rohanna McCormack agreed to join him and help. Over the years Pflum began
to feel that a workshop in the old fashioned sense lacked a certain kind of
freedom. He thought of the kind of salon that Gertrude Stein had run in Paris
after the first World War. This salon was a kind of space where artists of
every variety met and enriched each others’ art by conversation and by the
exhibiting of their work. He thought that maybe the salon would still have to
be primarily about poetry but he might be able to encourage artists in other
fields to show up and talk about their work. Alas, this was not to be the case
for Pflum soon discovered, that like birds, American artists like to hang out
with their own kind. Pflum should have known better for most poets behave in
exactly the same way: street poets hang out with street poets, slam poets hang
out with slam poets, ethnics with ethnics, academics with academics, and so it
goes. What he was able to do with his original idea was to encourage
participants to speak more freely about their other interests. To talk
tangentially about such diverse subjects as baiting a hook for walleye or chaos
theory and Mandelbrot figures, to atonal music of the New Vienna School in the
1930’s, to “Delbert” or “Peanuts”, or even about the detritus in their own everyday
lives, when a lone strident voice might pipe up from the table, “ when are we
going to start talking about our own poetry?” There is a continuing pressure to
run the Salon more like a University Workshop where we must stick to the
subject and we all must have equal time to discuss our work. Pflum would like
to think that the Salon experience might be more of an aesthetic adventure
rather than a place where one merely seeks tools so that one writes better.
Writing well might be the bottom line but gaining an outlook so that language
becomes one of our principal passions along with those metaphoric procedures that
might be used by an author to make up both a singular and imaginative world; worlds
in which many questions might be asked. We must understand that complete answers
are timeless and unattainable and might only be answered in a provisional way
or in the production of more questions, depending on: where we are, when we are,
and who we are when we ask. It is the questions which are important and
profound. Off the top of his head Pflum has made a list of some example
questions which might serve as meager stepping stones an artist might use in
trying to make something of real value:
How should we live so that our life
maintains the best of what
it means to be human?
How may we walk in a fallow field
and see the green?
How shall we look in the night sky and
see a living day??
What shall we listen for, on a
How many times must we repeat our
mistakes before we know?
How may we let silence enrich our conversation
or our writing?
How shall we live in our favorite
season and make all seasons
How shall we know if we should make
a garden or a poem?
How may we attain the joy and
sadness of pure empathy?
How can we compete and win without
any desire for winning?
How shall we know when something within
ourselves or our writing is broken?
How may we take the broken parts of
ourselves or of our writing
and fuse them back into a whole
How can the ambiguity of language
itself enable us to discover
some kind of truth.
How shall we make our life into
metaphor and metaphor into our life?
How may we distill the profound out
of the merely adequate?
How can we become rich in insight,
if not within our own experience?
How may we retain our own
singularity and yet be part of the whole?
The Poetry Salon meets the 1st
and 3rd Tuesdays of the month at 8PM somewhere at the The Indiana
Writers Center in the Cultural Complex Bldg. behind (North of) the Indianapolis Arts Center. (Listen for raucous laughter and stressed
voices in order to find the room.) All are welcome.
Click here to read article by IWC member Kathy Higgs-Coulthard in Women on Writing
This is the first of a series of blog posts by IWC members on their writing lives.
I was long and lanky. Such a cruel trick my body played on
my mother; I was no longer her doll to dress and display. I was growing up and growing away from my
1950s upbringing. That is where my
I was born under a tower of men, that is, I had a strong
father and two strong older brothers.
Although I was a “girlie” girl, I thought their lives more fulfilling
than my mother’s and mine. Not only were
they being raised to make history (while I was being raised to make beds) they
played sports every afternoon while I strolled my baby sister like a “little
My father did recognize the reader in me and took me to the
library once a week on Saturdays. I
turned to books to live out my real life, a life where I was still a girl, but
moreover, I was a person, with dreams and abilities. When I ran out of children’s books, I found a
book that was going to change the direction of my life. I didn’t know it then,
but I was going to be a writer. The
book was To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Although it was to be years later that I began to seriously write, Scout
and Jem and Atticus were always with me.
Even at the age of ten, I seemed to realize the enormous impact wielded
by a writer.
I had written stories as a child, but back then, no one in
my family understood (including me) that writing is a craft that must be
taught. As I entered the vestibule
between childhood and adulthood, I found myself reading more and more, but not writing.
There were no creative writing classes or writing units in school in the
Entering my teenage years, I must admit I read every issue
of Seventeen Magazine, but I also read
all the classics we were assigned in English class, read all the Shakespeare
plays the summer before my senior year (my summer of Shakespeare as I like to
call it) and when I entered university, prepared to be an English major, I
found myself in love and married two years later.
Somewhere along the way, I lost the writer whispering inside
of me. It wasn’t until three children
later, that the whispering writer, hollered.
“Go back to school.” I did. I completed my remaining two years of
undergrad in 2010 and I am currently a Masters of Fine Arts candidate at Butler
University here in Indianapolis.
Along the way, I enrolled in Writers Center classes and
continue to do so. One of the reasons, I
was motivated to apply for acceptance into Butler’s MFA program was because of
the tutoring of the Writers Center here in Indianapolis. The teachers, classes and workshops gave me
opportunities to be part of a writing community and to hone my writing. It prepared me to write in undergrad and
graduate school. I continue to take
classes at the Writers Center, even though I am in graduate school, because of
the quality of the programs. I am a
member of the Writers Center. I always
will be. I am now a professional writer. I always was a writer, I just needed a place
like the Writers Center to bring me back to Scout and Jem and Atticus.
If you're a member of the IWC, please consider submitting a short essay (up to 1,000) words about your writing life. Submissions should be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org