Category Archives: Guest Blog Post

The Job that’s Moved Me

A Guest Blog Post by Marianne Kunkel

author photo Marianne Kunkel

Who am I to write about the benefits of global-mindedness? The last time I stepped out of America was to buy Cadbury chocolate in Canada. Before that, my parents moved our family to Merida, Mexico, on the Yucatan peninsula. I was three at the time and, without putting much thought into it, enjoyed our house on the beach, daily swims, all that fresh fish. I was a purposeless traveler. I was, like most children, a freeloader.

Now that I have my own source of income and keep my own schedule, why does it feel so difficult to travel outside the country? I have a passport…somewhere. I have the necessary vacation time…almost. I’d like to visit…someplace. It doesn’t help that as an American I am constantly validated for my attention inward; it’s enough that I speak English, I’m told, that I can discuss U.S. politics at parties, that I have a solid knowledge of contemporary American poetry. Having a passion for global issues can feel a little like owning a motorcycle; people definitely think it’s cool that you have it, but no one’s expecting it of you.

In the summer of 2011, my curiosity about the world was an endangered animal heading toward extinction. That’s when I got my job as managing editor of Prairie Schooner, whose tagline at the time was “writing that moves you.” Cute, I remember thinking, studying the logo of reading glasses with bicycle wheels for lenses. I began taking direction from the journal’s new editor-in-chief, Kwame Dawes, running our Nebraska office while he occasionally flew to Scotland, Haiti, or Hong Kong to promote his new book. Kwame travels as casually as other people eat sandwiches.

Even from my office chair, quickly—and I mean quickly—my awareness of the world sputtered to life. I fell in love with poems sent to us by Marilyn Hacker, poems by Jean-Paul de Dadelson that she translated from French into English (these appear in Prairie Schooner’s Spring 2012 issue). I rang up Irish bookstore owners to ask if they’d carry our Winter 2011 Special Irish Issue. I co-curated a womb-themed issue of FUSION, the journal’s new international poetry/art e-zine, with poet TJ Dema from Botswana. I was just doing my job, but Prairie Schooner was doing something important, necessary, and exciting: this 87-year-old journal nestled deep in the heart of American literature was calling and being called into the world.

The next spring, at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Chicago, I took a break from worrying if in twenty years I’d be the successful poet I longed to be and sank briefly into memories of kindergarten. Wasn’t it great to spin a globe and skid my finger along the surface? Wasn’t that how I learned the intricacies of the Asian continent? This became the basic design for Prairie Schooner’s new mobile app for smartphones, “Global Schooner,” which launched this month: a spin-able globe mapping the homes of every author we publish each year. There are pinpoints for Nikola Madzirov in Strumica, Macedonia; Meena Alexander in Kerala, South India; Sherman Alexie in Seattle, Washington; and so on. Some pinpoints come loaded with audio, video, and text excerpts of published work. And a separate globe called “Guide to Customs” offers something especially cool: international authors answering the question, “What makes you hopeful or fearful about the world today?”

When I get to Japan, which I planned to do this summer for my 30th birthday but which I had to postpone because of my acceptance into a summer writers’ conference, my friend there promises to introduce me to many foods, historic landmarks, and clothing stores. I will take hundreds of photos but probably feel too busy to seriously read or write. Writing is not un-conducive to travel, but there’s a funny relationship between the two activities. The writing often happens after leaving a place and having time to reflect. This is why literature about countries beyond our own can add so much meaning—emotional, political, environmental, etc.—to these places, even ones we’ve already visited. Prairie Schooner’s newest FUSION presents Iranian poetry through the theme of “secrets” and, wow, I promise you you’ve never experienced the country like this before.

To download Global Schooner on your iOS device, click here. (

To explore Prairie Schooner’s secrets-themed FUSION with Iran, click here. (

About the Author

Marianne Kunkel’s poems have appeared in Cimarron Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Poet Lore, Rattle, and elsewhere. She is a recipient of the Susan Atefat-Peckham Fellowship and author of The Laughing Game (Finishing Line Press). She is the managing editor of Prairie Schooner.

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So You Have a Poetry Manuscript…

Guest Post by M.E. Silverman

Silly Isabel with Dad

So you have a poetry manuscript – now what? This is a question I have been wrestling with like Jacob with his angel since 1994 when I entered graduate school at McNeese State to study with John Wood and Robert Olen Butler. One would think it should be much easier, now more so than ever before! There are 4500 magazines according to Duotrope and so many presses, both independent small presses, bigger presses and the university affiliated ones, yet it is not uncommon for a poetry manuscript contest (really the only way to get published) to have 500 to 900 manuscripts to read and judge. Recently, I won 2nd place in a chapbook contest with a new press called Emerging Literary Journal. Before that, my manuscript, which has been constantly changing over the years as new poems get added and old ones get edited or even removed from it, was a semi-finalist in 3 or 4 contests.

So you too have a “good” manuscript, ready for publication with a large number of them published in poetry journals (more print than online) and in anthologies. How does one get to the published stage without going the self-published route? How to become the bride and not a bride’s maid? Here are some things to think about:

Get as many eyes on it as possible. Go to conferences, apply to writing colonies, be a part of reading and workshop groups, anything that could be helpful. Meet editors, writers, publishers and be open to suggestions and critiques. A good place to look is The Shaw Guide or Newpages (Writing Conferences Page) for more information on these places. There are a growing number of online workshops too which I really like including Gotham Writers’ Workshop and the Writers Studio. Some writers even have online writing workshops like Kim Addonizio, Deborah Ager, and Susan Browne. I personally have never taken any of these but have heard good things from others. Also, it is important to have a solid group of constant, reliable and trustworthy readers. If you don’t, go to the local college and see if you can form one by talking to the campus magazine or the writing professors.

Living in rural Georgia, none of these things are easy to do. After earning my MFA in 1997, I sort of walked away from it, stopped writing, and became disinterested in the whole process. So I know first-hand what to do to get back into it. First, I took some writing workshops online. There are several affiliated with magazines and for a small fee ($200 to 400), I got to work with an instructor for a few weeks and to hear feedback from a small group. I also looked for writers with several books published who critique manuscripts for a fee ($300 to 500) by searching through Google and looking up writers I have read. This really helped me to see what others see who might be contest judges and have experience in the field as not only writers but instructors. I had not had a line by line and page by page critique since I was a graduate student, and my writing (and my “voice”) had definitely changed. Then I contacted my local college and found a few professors who write poetry. I formed a Poetry Party Group to meet at a coffee shop once a month to talk and edit each other’s poems. I also subscribed to AWP’s magazine (The Writer’s Chronicle), which is such a great resource for interesting articles and their section on latest submission calls, conference calls, and grant opportunities. Yes, Newpages is helpful too but I find The Writer’s Chronicle to be my primary source for this information. I used to also regularly check Duotrope as a source of information but now they are subscription based and I do not wish to pay to participate for this information.

One final thought: I also read, read, and read some more. I mean I read a lot! I try to pay the presses directly by ordering through them to support the presses, especially the smaller ones, and the authors. If I couldn’t afford the books, I used the library.

Here are a few sites that might be helpful that I recommend:

Some Ideas on Order & Creation:

Manuscript Tips:

Thinking Like an Editor:

Two manuscript conferences I highly recommend: Colrain and Tupelo

About the Author

M. E. Silverman is editor of Blue Lyra Review. His chapbook, The Breath before Birds Fly (ELJ Press, 2013), is available. His poems have appeared in over 70 journals, including: Crab Orchard Review, 32 Poems, December, Chicago Quarterly Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology, The Los Angeles Review, Mizmor L’David Anthology: The Shoah, Cloudbank, Neon, Many Mountains Moving, Pacific Review, Because I Said So Anthology, Sugar House Review, and other magazines. M. E. Silverman was a finalist for the 2008 New Letters Poetry Award, the 2008 DeNovo Contest and the 2009 Naugatuck River Review Contest. He is working on editing a contemporary Jewish anthology with Deborah Ager forthcoming in 2013 from Bloomsbury.

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It’s a Small Press World

Guest Post by R. Scott McCoy

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It is a very small world. I’d like to start with a bit of backstory. In short fiction, backstory is to be avoided, but this is real life and a certain context is required.

I met Martin Ott in basic training at Ft Leonardwood, Missouri. We didn’t become instant friends on day one; rather we grew into it because of our common path and mutual interests. We were both going to Fort Huachuca for Interrogator school and afterwards on to the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey.

There were actually three of us, the third being Eric Costlow, or Cos. We went through challenging times together at a point in our lives when we were trying to figure out who we were and who we wanted to be. Marty is a part of who I was and after more than 25 years, I reconnected with him on Facebook because he had done an interview about his latest book. I should have known he’d become a writer.

Marty started writing much sooner than I did. I’d decided in 2005 that I was going to finally lay it all on the line and see if I had what it took. I didn’t have lofty goals like being the next Stephen King or even being good enough to scrape out a living with my writing. No, my goal was more basic. I wanted to know if I could write a story that someone would want to read. I wanted to find out if I could learn the craft well enough that I could touch another person with my words and make them glad they had spent the time. This was my quest. I’d tried and quit several times starting when I was eighteen and in the Army. The reason I failed so often is irrelevant to this post, but finally in 2005, something clicked and I started down the path of becoming a writer.

In 2007, my father became ill and was hospitalized. He suffered several complications and eleven months later, he died. During those eleven months, I spent a lot of time with him in hospitals, much of it while he was asleep or unconscious.  It gave me time to reflect.

If you’re reading this, chances are that you are somewhere on the path. You have or will find out that working on your craft is only part of it. You also need to know how to market your writing so it can escape the confines of your computer and be read. I was frustrated with a lot of what I discovered when I tried to get published. Sitting in a waiting room, doing what the room was designed to do, I wrote down all of the things that frustrated me about getting published. The top two items on my list were long turn around times and form rejections. Most magazines or anthologies I was interested in didn’t allow simultaneous submissions. The average response time in 2005 was ninety days, with some lasting over a year. The response, if it was a rejection, was usually a short paragraph with no indication if your story had missed the mark by an inch or a mile. I was taught that if I was going to complain about a situation, I should also take the time to come up with a solution. But what could I do, I was a writer not a publisher.

Light bulb.

I’d only written short stories up to that point and all of them were horror. I didn’t make a conscious decision to write horror stories; it’s just what came out. I enjoy the genre because I feel it allows the exploration of the human condition  in the most concise manner. I don’t need to build a world or explain technology.

When I decided to start a short fiction magazine, it made sense to make it horror because I knew it better than other genres. I read voraciously and with the exception of romance, I don’t discriminate. I know SciFi, Fantasy, and Thriller, having cut my teeth on the classics in my youth. But what I wrote was horror, so

I had a better feel for what would make a good short horror story. While I was in one of those waiting rooms, a doctor came in to tell me about my father’s latest complication. One of my many theories is that doctors use Latin when speaking to patients or family members as a coping mechanism. It gives them some distance as well as a position of superiority. He informed me that my father’s colon was now “Necrotic Tissue,” and needed be removed.

At that point in my life, I needed a distraction from the pain. I took some solace from my writing, but I needed something more. I needed a quest. It all came together as these things do, and I decided to start a horror magazine called Necrotic Tissue. I got a friend to create my website and format the magazine. He also did all the layout and art. I got some other friends to help me with reading submissions. The magazine had a few simple goals:

– Fast turnaround averaging fourteen days

–  Personal rejections, even if it was only one sentence, give a reason for the rejection and, if possible, advice on how to improve

– Pay on time

– Always pick the best story

The last goal may seem obvious, but many magazines wouldn’t give a new writer a chance, regardless of how good the story was. They sought known names because known names sell magazines. Eventually, I solicited known writers and paid pro rates to help sales, but I never took a slot away from another writer, I just made the magazine longer by one story.

The one mistake I made was assuming I could break even. After three years, it became clear that I would run with a loss for at least two more years, possibly longer. The IRS allows you to declare a loss in only three of five years for a small business venture before they consider it a hobby. I pushed it to four years, risking an audit because I wanted NT to survive.

In the end, I couldn’t turn the corner and had to close shop, but not before I put out fourteen issues, one novel, one play collection and two anthologies as well as being the first publishing credit for dozens of writers. I would like to try again using a non-profit model. With margins so thin, a publisher has to worry about every single penny.

It’s easy to put editors and publishers (often the same thing in small press) in the role of the antagonist. They are often faceless villains that just don’t understand our art. The reality is that most of them are also writers and the time they take to run a small press is time that takes away from their writing. Some of them use it as a venue for their own writing and some use it as a way to trade publishing credits, a practice I find despicable. Still others jump in and out of ventures, most trying to network with well-known writers. But the majority of small press publishers just want to put out a good product.

Small press is not one thing. It varies as much as the varied people that own them and they change over time. You need to put in the time and effort on market research. It will save you a lot of heartache and pain. Beware of scammers and don’t be afraid to ask other writers what their experience with a given publisher has been. You can’t submit what you never write down and you can get a publishing credit if you never submit. Finally, thicken your skin, because if your goal is to be showered with complements and accolades, you need another line of work.

One last thing and I will step off my soapbox. Support the publishers that support you. Most writers are broke most of the time, but that doesn’t stop you from reposting news from your publishers on Facebook. You need reviews for your work, but you can also help out other writers by reading their work and posting review on Amazon. I’m not talking about anything unseemly. The fact is that even a bad review on Amazon helps. It’s a numbers game. Take the time to read some of your peers and post reviews. They may or may not reciprocate, but that’s not really the point. Regardless of whether you are selfless or selfish, helping your publisher can only help you in the long run.

Despite the fact that there are thousands of writers out there at various stages of their careers, it is a relatively small community. When I first met Marty and Cos, I was trying to escape who I had been. I saw the Army as a chance to be a better person and went about remaking myself in that image. It was a lofty goal and I would like to think that I’ve made progress towards it. I chose my friends carefully, wanting to surround myself with good people that would help me in my transformation. I’m glad to finally reconnect with Marty and share a mutual passion for writing. It is a very small and wonderful world.


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