Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Interview with Textploit: Part II

Last month, I learned about Textploit, a new literary journal that exclusively publishes work by young people (writers and artists under age 20, to be precise.) I was blown away by the talent, variety, and sheer bravery of the work in their debut issues. Earlier we had two of Textploit's Editors-in-Chief, Natasha Lasky and Ella Bartlett, on the blog -- you can read their interview here if you missed it. Today I am pleased to feature an interview with Textploit's third Editor-in-Chief, Siqi Liu!



How would you describe Textploit, and what gave you the idea to start it? Could you give us a peek inside your path to founding this journal?

Siqi: Textploit is an inclusive platform for young writers and artists to share their voices. After being an editor at other literary magazines, I became very passionate about the process of creating high quality literary arts productions. When Natasha and Ella told me about the initial idea of starting our own magazine, I became enamored, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that.

I'd love to hear more about your various writing projects. What inspires you?

Siqi: I’m always starting one short story or another, and I’ve recently been venturing into poetry. I’m also thinking about starting a novel this summer, so I’m excited about that. I’m usually inspired by personal experiences; I like taking bits and pieces of my own life and extract something beautiful and coherent out of the banal chaos.

What made you want to become a writer?

Siqi: I love people, and I think my desire to get to know people better was and still is why I write. I’ve always had an impulse for telling character-centric stories. By writing, I can try to understand human nature.

Could you give us a sample "day in the life"? In particular, when/how do you find time to write?

Siqi: I’m kind of a seasonal writer. I’m most productive during school breaks because I find it difficult to be creative under stress. However, when I do write, I tend to sit down for a large chunk of time (at least several hours) on the weekend and try to churn out X number of pages. But I don’t really set a goal for myself. Sometimes I can write five pages in two hours, sometimes only five paragraphs. And that’s okay.

What is your biggest advice for writers submitting their work, and facing the inevitable rejection that comes along with that? Any tips for submitting to Textploit in particular?

Siqi: As someone who has been rejected plenty of times, I would say that it’s more important to think about the journey than the result. Every piece we produce as writers came from somewhere within, and during the process of spilling out that chunk of our soul on paper, we have grown -- both as writers and as people. Don’t regret or dwell on rejections because the journey is always worth it. As for tips for submitting to Textploit, I would say to submit the piece that has your bravest voice. We love fresh styles, experimental forms, and daring tales.

Why is it important for young people to have a voice in the publishing landscape?

Siqi: Grownups are constantly trying to get into teenagers’ heads. Adults write about us, sing about us, make art about us. So why aren’t we hearing from young people themselves? I think it’s important for teens to have a voice so the world stops thinking of us as projections from the imagination of thirty, forty, fifty year olds and start seeing us as who we really are.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Siqi: We are currently looking for art, music, and film editors! Contact us at admin@textploit.com if you are interested.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Interview with the editors of Textploit, a new literary journal for teens


Last month, I learned about Textploit, a new literary journal that exclusively publishes work by young people (writers and artists under age 20, to be precise.) I was blown away by the talent, variety, and sheer bravery of the work in their debut issues. Two of Textploit's editors, Natasha Lasky and Ella Bartett, were kind enough to answer some questions here on the blog today. Their words will no doubt inspire you -- perhaps to submit some work of your own!

Ella

Natasha

Textploit is a literary journal unique from anything else being published today. How would you describe Textploit, and what gave you the idea to start it? Could you give us a peek inside your path to founding this journal?

Natasha: I was drawn to Textploit for one simple reason: most publications for teens are lame. They either feel condescending, like a talent show where adults showcase “teen voices” instead of actually listening to what teens have to say, or they feel dry and elitist, as if a teen writer has to act like a mini-adult in order to be taken seriously. Neither type respects the fact that teens view the world in a unique, raw, even beautiful way, and that they deserve to speak for themselves. Not to mention that most publications only accept writing and art while ignoring music, photography, film, and all the other ways adolescents express themselves. I wanted to help create an online space where teens can be represented with the passion, seriousness, and sense of humor that they deserve.

Ella: We wanted to create a magazine that allowed teens to publish their work without judgment on whatever topic they chose. To echo Natasha, we want teens not to feel like they have to write (or draw) about “proper” adult things. We publish quality work, and we focus on letting teens write what they want to write about. In that vein, we also are online only, which makes all our work easily accessible to our target audience.

In addition to being editors and publishers, you are all writers too. I'd love to hear more about your various writing projects. What inspires you?

Ella: I am inspired by the smallest thing: a conversation on the subway, the way someone holds a pencil, a cool European accent. I take these things and create characters out of them. The stories form kind of on their own from there. Most of my stories are flash fiction, but I attempt poetry when I am in a certain mood, and I love the satisfaction of working on a longer short story.

Natasha: I am inspired by discomfort. Relationships I see, thoughts I have, stories that people tell me -- if it makes me uncomfortable in some way, I can write about it. I wish there was a better word for it than simply “discomfort,” but I’m talking about that area on the emotional spectrum between contentment and extreme suffering, the subtle kinds of pain that we experience every day but that there really aren’t good words for. It makes sense why nobody has come up with the right words for them, because those feelings are the most complicated feelings, and therefore moments of discomfort are the most interesting for me to write about. In terms of genre, I don’t have the brain for poetry, though I enjoy it. I prefer to write essays, fiction, and screenplays. Fiction is the hardest, but I love it the most.

What made you want to become a writer?

Ella: My third grade teacher, Mr. Barloon. We did a mini writing workshop in his class, and I found I loved it. Then, once I began to read great writers like Hemingway or Carver or Lahiri, I began to realize how serious and influential the craft can be. When you share your writing, be it in the form of reaching out for edits or even publishing, you can change someone’s life.

Natasha: This will sound weird and cliche but I feel like writing is part of who I am. I never really wanted to be a “writer,” and I still don’t really know what that means, exactly, to “be a writer,” but I know I’ve always wanted to write. I read obsessively as a kid, and I liked (and still like) that writing has the unique ability to speak to us in the same way we speak to ourselves. When you read a book you can get out of your own mind and live inside the mind of Humbert Humbert or Holden Caulfield or Katniss Everdeen for a while instead. It’s a tool for empathy, in a certain way. I also like spending time alone, in my own head, and writing definitely suits that disposition.

Could you give us a sample "day in the life"? In particular, when/how do you find time to write in your busy schedules?

Ella: That’s tough. I write when I can. Especially for teens now, with all the other pressures we put on ourselves academically and socially, it’s difficult to find a specific time of the day to dedicate solely to the craft. I journal every single night, sometimes for ten minutes and sometimes for half an hour, depending on how early I have to get up the next morning. I also often prioritize writing before other items on the long to-do list, especially when I need the release it gives me.

What is your biggest advice for writers submitting their work, and facing the inevitable rejection that comes along with that? Any tips for submitting to Textploit in particular?

Ella: All art (writing, painting, film, etc.) is so subjective. We are dealing with humans and human experience here. Writing is often so personal that you have to not take rejections personally. Just keep writing/drawing/etc. You’ll find a way to tell your story in a voice that is able to touch more people the more you write. As for Textploit, just be honest. We look for art that speaks to teens, and chances are you’re going through something that another teen is going through. If you illustrate your mind through a haiku, a watercolor, or anything else -- just make sure it tells the truth.

Natasha: Rejection sucks. There’s no way around it. If you really care about your writing, it will feel terrible when it gets rejected. And so I guess my rejection advice would be to feel the sad feelings that come with rejection, but recognize that those feelings are a good sign -- since it means that you love your piece and want people to see it. Then funnel that energy into making the piece better. As for submissions to Textploit, I will just reiterate what Ella says, since she is completely correct (as she often is). Follow that old (perhaps cliche) adage: write what you know. Don’t try and be H.P. Lovecraft or Hemingway or Emily Dickinson or Toni Morrison, just be you and be honest. We’ll love you just the way you are, I’m sure of it.

Why is it important for young people to have a voice in the publishing landscape?

Natasha: The fact is: teens see the world differently, and it’s cool. The liminal space between adulthood and childhood is inherently interesting, and that’s why YA is such a powerhouse genre, that’s why The Fault in Our Stars makes millions of dollars, that’s why we still read Romeo and Juliet. Teen issues are everyone’s issues. And that’s also why it’s so frustrating to me when teens feel like they have to write about “adult things” to be taken seriously. We should let teens speak for themselves about their experience, and respect them for that.

Ella: When young people are able to get their work out “into the wild” so to say, it is not only exhilarating for the artist. It is essential for others to understand what it is/was like being a teen. We want to make an imprint on the world by sharing these stories, to remind people that no, it’s not easy to be in this age group. I agree with Natasha: we think differently. Things that seem insignificant are not. They’re real.


Connect with Textploit:

Friday, July 10, 2015

Creating -- and Re-creating -- the Past

One interesting thing about being a writer is that each day sparkles with potential for delightful surprises and wonderful news. At any given time, I have short stories and essays submitted to a dozen different journals; my collection of short stories submitted to two or three book contests or small presses; and queries for my novel manuscript out to a variety of agents. With each submission I send out, my heart leaps with possibility. I carefully choose where I submit individual pieces and projects, and I take the time to read publications and research editors who seem to be a perfect aesthetic fit for my work. When I click the "submit" or "send" button, I always feel excited, dreaming that maybe this will be the one that gets the response of YES.

But, inevitably, most of the submissions I send out are rejected. It's the name of the game; simply part of being a writer. Still, when I get a rejection, it stings. It is disappointing, every time.


Usually, I shake it off and find another journal or editor or agent to submit to. Keep things moving along, keep pushing forward, keep hoping. Every "no" is one step closer to a "yes." Get knocked down seven times; stand up eight.

But sometimes, on low days, or days when the writing isn't going well, or days when something else annoying or upsetting happens, it can be hard not to let one more rejection -- one more disappointment -- steamroll my thoughts towards all the other rejections I have gotten over the years. When you put them all together in a row like that, it can feel overwhelming and hopeless. It's easy to think, Why bother submitting at all? Why go through the trouble of putting my work out there, if it's just going to get rejected again?

Of course, when my thoughts go down this rabbit hole, I'm choosing not to think about all the acceptances and good news I've received over the years: the contests won, the stories and essays published, the nice emails and praise from readers and editors alike. If you could reach back through time and tell my writer self of five years ago where I am now, she would giddily jump for joy at all the excitement I've been fortunate to experience.

In his book Genership 1.0: Beyond Leadership Toward Liberating the Creative Soul, David Castro calls this type of selective remembering "Creating the Past." He writes:
"Those not trained as historians may find it difficult to come to terms with the idea that we create the past. But modern psychological experiments speak powerfully to this concept. Mental models or mind maps exert a palpable, constructive influence on perceptions of the past; we tend to see evidence that conforms to our mental maps while we discount or omit whatever does not. An experiment conducted by Brewer and Treyens (1981), one among many, asked each participant to wait in an office for about 35 seconds for another laboratory room to be prepared. They were then moved to another room and asked to recall everything in the office. Participants showed a strong tendency to recall the presence of objects consistent with a typical office. Nearly everyone remembered a desk and the chair next to it. But only eight of the 30 recalled a skull visible in the office, few recalled a wine bottle or the coffee pot, and only one called up the picnic basket. Some recalled items that had not been there at all: nine remembered specific books not present in the office. These findings, consistent with many others on the subject, show that people tend to project their ideas onto the record of the past, thus creating narratives and imagined incidents consistent with their mental modals and beliefs. We construct the past in this way." (pgs. 138-139)
As a writer, I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of stories. I believe they connect us to one another, expand our empathy and knowledge, and help us understand each other and the world around us.

What I sometimes forget is that the stories we tell ourselves are just as powerful as the stories we tell each other. We choose the past we create for ourselves. We choose what details to emphasize and what to leave out of the telling. Just as the people in the experiment were most likely to see the things they expected to be in the office, we are most likely to see and remember the past events that fit into the narrative we are telling ourselves about our lives.


So: are you telling yourself a positive story, or a negative one?

Are you seeing the skulls and wine bottles and picnic baskets, as well as the chairs and the desks?

Are you sliding some books onto your past bookshelf that were never even there in the first place?

Next time I get a rejection, I am not going to give it more power by adding on all the past rejections I have received. Instead, I will purposely choose to remember all the acceptances and successes I have experienced. In this way, I am creating a past that is empowering for my future. I encourage you to do the same!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Q & A Friday: How to Teach Poetry to Kids

Hi, everyone, and welcome back to Q&A Friday here on the blog! 

So, what is Q&A Friday? Often I get emailed questions about writing, teaching, editing, book recommendations, and general questions about the literary life, and I was thinking that other people might be interested in these questions, too! Q&A Friday is where I will answer one of these questions every other week or so. I hope you find it to be helpful and inspiring! 

 If you have a question, please feel free to email it to me at dallaswoodburn gmail com with "Q&A Friday" in the subject line. Also, if you have thoughts to add to my answers, I would LOVE if you would share your ideas in the comments section below! My aim for this blog is for it to be a positive resource and community-builder for readers, writers, teachers, and book-lovers of all ages! 



Question: I love reading and writing poetry myself, and I have an opportunity coming up to teach a group of kids. I would love to teach a brief lesson about poetry and maybe even write some poetry together, but I have no idea where to start. Do you have any experience teaching poetry to kids? If so, can you suggest any activities that work well?

What a worthy endeavor! Yes, I definitely teach poetry to kids. In my experience, most kids seem to really enjoy reading and writing poetry. One thing I've noticed is that many young kids believe all poetry needs to rhyme, which can be very restrictive when trying to write a poem. So, one of my goals as their teacher is to try to broaden their view of what poetry is and can be. 


Here is a website that I like with different viewpoints from kids of what poetry is: http://whatispoetrytoyou.tumblr.com/ (Note: in the group shots it is hard to read the posters, but if you scroll down a bit you get to singular shots, and some have translations of the kids' handwritten words typed out below the photograph.) 

Perhaps a simple activity you might start with is asking the kids what they think poetry is, and on the board you could brainstorm a list of their responses. In this way, you create a "poetry collage" together! I would encourage you to format this lesson as a discussion among everyone. Instead of telling them what poetry is (or telling them that poetry does not have to rhyme, for example) ask them questions and share examples of different types and styles of poetry. 

Another fun activity would be to write a poem together as a group, or help the kids write their own poems individually. An easy poem that works well for beginning poets is an "I love you" poem. It is basically a series of "I love you more than..." statements, using descriptive language or metaphor, addressed to a person, place or thing. 

When I was in elementary school, I wrote a poem like this for my grandfather "Gramps" which is included in my collection of short stories and poems, There's a Huge Pimple On My Nose:

Dear Gramps,
I love you more than a boxer puppy loves his bark.
I love you more than a loaf of yummy cinnamon bread loves to bake.
I love you more than a gardener loves his red, red rose.
I love you with my whole little-girl heart.
Love, Dallas

Below is a template you could use to help kids come up with their own "I love you" poems:

Think of a person you want to write a poem to. This might be your mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, or friend. 

Brainstorm a list of things you like to do with this person. Try to be as SPECIFIC as possible! For example, in “My Monday Guy” the author describes baking “yummy cinnamon bread.” 
 1) _____________________________________________________________ 
 2) _____________________________________________________________ 
 3) _____________________________________________________________ 
 4) _____________________________________________________________ 
 5) _____________________________________________________________ 

Now, brainstorm a list of SPECIFIC things this person likes or that you associate with this person. For example, in “My Monday Guy” the author describes “a boxer puppy” and a gardener’s “red rose.” 
1) _____________________________________________________________ 
2) _____________________________________________________________ 
3) _____________________________________________________________ 
4) _____________________________________________________________ 
5) _____________________________________________________________ 

Go back and read through both your lists. Draw stars next to your favorite four or five items you brainstormed. Now it’s time to weave your ideas together into a poem! 

Title: ______________________________________________ 
Dear _______________________________________________,  
I love you more than ______________________________________________ 
I love you more than ______________________________________________  
I love you more than ______________________________________________  
I love you with my _________________________________________________  
Love, ______________________________________________

Good luck, and have fun! If you liked this poem and activity, you might want to check out my children's book There's a Huge Pimple On My Nose and accompanying Teacher's Guide!

Previous "Q & A Friday" posts:
- How to manage class time as a writing teacher
- How to build a platform as a freelance writer

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

We Are All "Creative People"



Occasionally when I tell someone that I am a fiction writer, a stunned expression crosses their face -- as if I confessed that my day job is being a Superhero.

"Oh, I could never do that," they say. "I could never make up stories out of thin air. I'm not that creative."

However, if there's one thing I've learned from teaching writing to people of all ages for the past eight years, it's that everyone is indeed creative. Some of us just might have more trouble accessing our creative selves. And others might not recognize their own creativity, even if they use it all the time.

We all possess imagination; we all solve problems; we all daydream. Sure, the problems I solve at work often revolve around fictional characters in made-up situations. But I don't think there is much difference between a fictional character's problem (for example, trying to solve a crime before the murderer strikes again!) and a real-life workplace problem (such as trying to put together a business strategy the client will love, in time for a big meeting with the team.) I think we use the same problem-solving, creative muscles to do both tasks. I guess a main difference is that as a fiction writer, I create both the problems AND the solutions! (And believe me, sometimes I manage to create real doozies for myself and then have to try to wrangle my characters free...) ;)


A real-life problem I am trying to fight is these boxes many people drop down around themselves, labeled as "not creative." It makes my heart ache every time someone tells me they could never be a writer, because they are "not creative enough." It's not true! Don't believe it!

This is a serious matter. Because to accept that limiting, false belief -- to hunker down into that "non-creative" box -- is to turn away from your inherent gifts as a human being.

In his ground-breaking book Genership 1.0: Beyond Leadership Toward Liberating the Creative Soul, leadership guru and business expert David Castro approaches creativity and leadership in an entirely new way. He transforms the way we think of organizations, communities, and "progress" in general. He writes:

"What if our most critical human goal, the most fundamental human activity, is not to know or to understand, but rather to create, to generate? What would it mean if at the heart of human nature we discovered not reason, not rationality, not the capacity to grasp the world in the mind, but rather the capacity to imagine and invent that world?"
(pg. 3)


In Genership 1.0, David Castro explores exciting, freeing new definitions of leadership in the 21st Century. He coins a new term -- "genership" -- defined as: "The capacity to create with others; the community practice of creating." What would this approach mean for our businesses? Our schools? Our politics? He guides the reader into a new way of thinking about leadership that transcends limitations.

To me, this book is not only about being a leader in a business sense; it applies to our personal lives too. It inspires you to reflect on how you see yourself and how you live your everyday life. Here are some questions I jotted down:

  • What world do I want to create and invent? 
  • How can I take the steps to get there?
  • What does it mean to come together and lead as a team?
  • What can I generate, for myself and for others? 


I want to close with a poem that Castro quotes in his Preface, from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and
try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms
and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.
Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you
because you would not be able to live them. And the
point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it,
and live along some distant day into the answer.

Maybe leadership -- or knowledge, or adulthood, or teaching -- is not about "having all the answers" but rather about helping others to learn to embrace life's uncertainties. Maybe true wisdom means cultivating an insatiable curiosity.

Here's to living the questions.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Q & A Friday: How to Build a Platform as a Freelance Writer

Hi, everyone, and welcome back to Q&A Friday here on the blog!

So, what is Q&A Friday? Often I get emailed questions about writing, teaching, editing, book recommendations, and general questions about the literary life, and I was thinking that other people might be interested in these questions, too! Q&A Friday is where I will answer one of these questions every other week or so. I hope you find it to be helpful and inspiring!

If you have a question, please feel free to email it to me at dallaswoodburn <AT> gmail <DOT> com with "Q&A Friday" in the subject line. Also, if you have thoughts to add to my answers, I would LOVE if you would share your ideas in the comments section below! My aim for this blog is for it to be a positive resource and community-builder for readers, writers, teachers, and book-lovers of all ages!




Question: I'm just starting out as a freelance writer and want to expand my areas of expertise, and also build my platform... but I have no clue where or how to start! It's overwhelming. Do you have any suggestions?

My Answer: Yes, I have been there and I know it can feel totally overwhelming! My biggest advice is to try to pick one small thing to do a day relating to building your platform... maybe that means doing some online research of markets you can send your work to; or reading and taking notes on a writing newsletter; or writing an article or blog post; or even starting a page on Twitter or Facebook for your writing career.

Here are some places to start that have been helpful resources for me:

  • One newsletter that I subscribe to that I love is Funds For Writers. It's free, comes out frequently, and lists a variety of publication opportunities and contests for that time frame. I like that it's manageable; if I happen to be really busy and "miss" looking at an issue, I can just move along the next one and boom! I'm up to date again. 
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul is always looking for stories for their upcoming titles, with a variety of themes and topics. They list their upcoming topics and guidelines on their website. Note: there is definitely a specific Chicken Soup for the Soul "type" of story they are looking for... basically, it should be first-person, a true story, and about an event or a person that shaped your life in some way, made you think, made you better, gave you a new appreciation, etc. I would definitely recommend reading a few of the books before you submit. They pay $200 and 10 copies of the book. 
  • Another strategy that has worked for me to build my platform is to reach out to bloggers I admire and offer to write a guest post for them for free. It's a great way to build connections and expand your exposure. 
I hope this is helpful. If anyone has some additional resources to add to the list, please add them to the comments below!

The most important thing I have found when it comes to freelance writing -- and writing in general-- is to keep your spirits up, stay motivated, and believe in yourself. Perseverance is the name of the game. Remember that every "no" is one step closer to a "yes." Little by little, big things happen!

Previous Q&A Friday posts:

- How do you manage class time when teaching creative writing?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Interview with Writer & Filmmaker Marjory E. Leposky



Tell us about your various writing projects. What inspires you? 

To date I have written two feature films: Reasons? and Getting To The Game; two TV pilots, Gables and Who's Jared; one short film, La Fuente (The Fountain); and one animation script/children's book about a cat named Mr. Grumbles. Reasons?, Getting To The Game, and Gables -- the first three -- were written from anger over what was going on in my life and my world at the time. Who's Jared, La Fuente (The Fountain), and Mr. Grumbles were written a few years later, inspired by ideas that came to me and events that happened to me. For me personally, it is a lot easier to research and write from anger than from inspiration.

What made you want to become a writer? 

My parents are non-fiction writers. I never really had plans to become a writer, too. I'm really a filmmaker. I've been told that if I want to move up in my career, I should write my own projects -- but no one explained what went into getting them made: finding an agent or publisher, and raising the necessary funds. So I have had to learn all that myself.

Can you give us a peek into your writing schedule?  

I have not written a script in the past five years. I have spent this time grant-writing and fund-raising, looking for an agent and publisher, and trying to decide if I want to self-publish Mr. Grumbles, which would lead to more grant-writing and fund-raising.

When I am in a writing mode. I just sit down with good music on, and I write in Finaldraft. I do not write the old-school way with cards and strips. I might write an outline. Most of my characters just talk to me, and I write. I find that most of the time I have to do research on the subject I am writing about. I do interviews and "hang out" with the subject.

What is your biggest advice for people who want to write films? 

Don't waste your time and money on those $1,000-dollar writing programs. With screenwriting you need to know the rules before you start to change or break the rules of screenwriting. Do take a screenwriting class at either a community college or university.

What are your favorite children's books? 

The Giving Tree and other poem books by Shel Silverstein; and Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Start with writing from the heart. Then you need to do re-writes, which no one wants to do. Also, always have a good proofreader.

Connect with Marjory at the links below: