Our April Featured Author – James Penha

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For National Poetry Month’s featured author, Durham Editing and E-books has reached around the globe to target the unique writings of James Penha. We have had the pleasure to work with James on Summer Shorts II: Best Kept Secrets, It’s About Living, and Snowflakes and Memories.

 

A native New Yorker who now makes his home in Tangerang, Indonesia, James Penha is a poet, fiction writer, and teller of tales. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and in poetry. Snakes and Angels, a collection of his adaptations of classic Indonesian folk tales, won the 2009 Cervena Barva Press fiction chapbook contest; No Bones to Carry, a volume of his poetry, the 2007 New Sins Press Editors’ Choice Award. His earlier chapbooks of poetry were Greatest Hits (Pudding House: 2001) and On the Back of the Dragon (Omega Cat Press: 1992). James also edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry.

 

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A member of the Poetry Society of America, Poets and Writers, the Academy of American Poets, and THEMA Literary Foundation, James is a newly-retired literature and writing teacher who works steadily on his own online journal, The New Verse News. We were glad to have James Penha take time out from his busy schedule to tell us a little about his writing practices, inspirations, and his unique take on what makes a poem.

 

 

When did you first start writing?

In the fifties and sixties, I was educated in great New York City public schools where teachers encouraged creative writing and rewarded students willing to post and perform their pieces. Having my stories spread out on bulletin boards . . . reading my poems at assemblies . . . these educators encouraged me to seize freedom and the confidence to write not just for myself, but for audiences.

 

Where did you grow up, and how did it influence your writing?

I still identify myself as a New Yorker; the City’s invitation to make choices from all it offers made me who I am in so many ways, literary and personal. My high school and college friends and I did not spend much time on basketball courts or baseball diamonds. We visited the great Manhattan bookstores of the era—Scribner’s, Brentano’s, Doubleday—to grab books and magazines and pieces of floor and read to each other. We walked Central Park to imagine where Holden Caulfield sat watching the ducks. And we heard great writers reading their works in cafes and galleries. Yes, writing is a solitary occupation, but literature in New York has always been an event.

 

Where do you write? Describe this area for us.

At home in a suburb of Jakarta, Indonesia, with windows opening on the garden is my office. That’s where the laptop and the printer and my books reside; I work at the desk here to revise and perfect drafts. But I tend to draft poems and rough out stories by hand in notebooks (or sometimes on the iPad) away from the desk . . . in the garden . . . or, most frequently, on location as I travel.

jp, dog, bali sunset

 

When you aren’t writing, how do you spend your time?

After a forty-five year career teaching literature and writing at universities and secondary schools in the U.S. and Asia, I am newly retired this year and so am writing more rather than less than ever before. When not writing, I spend hours reading poems and stories, listening to them, watching them . . . and, always, dreaming them up . . . especially while traveling the islands of this amazing archipelago.

 

What inspires you to get out of bed each morning?

At my age, just waking up is inspiration enough to see me through the day! But then I have always been a morning kind of guy. I can’t wait to have my first cup of coffee, feed and walk the dog, see what birds and butterflies are poking around the garden.

 

What are your five favorite books, and why?

When novelists are asked which of their own books their favorites are, they typically say, “The last one” or “The next one.” I’m that way with all my favorite books because great new ones not only teach me something about life, they reinvent literature and so influence me holistically. So let me name three recent books that knocked me out: in Brewster, the novel by Mark Slouka, the politics and culture of its setting subtly underscore the profound dramas in the lives of its protagonists; Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric—which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry on the very day I am answering this question—is not at all subtle in its politics and culture and just as boldly defies definitions of literary genres; in Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk, one can witness, in the gossamer helixes of its structure, narrative nonfiction evolve.

My two canonical favorites are Hamlet and Heart of Darkness because they contain everything there is to know about literature; I have yet to plumb it all.

 

Tell us a little about The New Verse News.

In the months and years following 9/11, I found myself writing more and more poems objecting to U.S. foreign policies and adventures and to what I saw as a frightening disregard, in instruments like the Patriot Act, for the American tradition of rights and liberties. But because of the lag time between submission and publication for most literary journals, and given their general disdain for political poetry, I saw no possible outlet for such newsy verse . . . unless I established one. Beginning in February 2005, www.newversenews.com solicited from writers around the world poetry as current as the day’s headlines. Soon we were receiving enough good material to post one new poem per day by well-known writers as well as unknowns. What all our writers share is a passion for progressive politics, the environment, human rights . . . and poetry.

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How does writing poetry differ from writing prose?

I’m glad you didn’t ask me the difference between poetry and prose. My answer to that would be as full of conditions as to make it unbearably long and, likely, absurdly reductive. But I can explain how writing poetry differs from writing prose quite simply: to write poetry one must worry about every word. One must cut any word that undermines the whole. Each word that remains must be just the right one to move the reader. The goal of a poem, after all, is not just the transference of understanding or empathy. A poem seeks to create or recreate an experience in—not for, in—the reader. To accomplish this miracle, no word can mislead . . . unintentionally.

If a piece of prose is short enough to allow its writer to worry over each word in this way, it deserves to be called a poem.

 

 

What is the best writing advice you can give another writer?

1. Listen to what you write. If you can’t hear it in your head automatically, read your drafts out loud and listen to your sentences, your rhythms, the way your narrators, speakers, and characters talk.

2. Have a few gimmicks to force major revisions. My own favorites: Question why any sentence written in passive voice shouldn’t be more active. Search out every adjective-noun and adverb-verb combination to wonder if it can be replaced by a more precise noun or verb that does not require modification.

 

 

What are you working on now?

Having just finished two long stories and a series of ekphrastic poems, I am about to get to work on a new story based on an ancient Chinese legend. And, of course, I work on The New Verse News every day.

 

 

You can find out more about the very talented James Penha and his works at:
http://www.jamespenha.com
@jJamesPenha
http://www.newversenews.com
http://www.amazon.com/James-Penha/e/B001JS1CP4
http://www.thelostbookshelf.com/p.html#JamesPenha
http://www.origamipoems.com/poets/18-james-penha

From the Inbox: Formatting a Text Message

from the inboxformatting a text message

Recently, a wonderfully talented writer that we know asked us a very interesting question: how do you format a text message in a book?

 

Ahhh, the text message, that elusive creature that has taken over so much of modern communication and is now wreaking havoc in the lives of writers everywhere. When many of us were learning the ins and outs of grammar and punctuation, text messages didn’t exist. Italics and bolds didn’t either, for that matter! So for many, formatting text messages within a larger work is unknown territory. Luckily, the answer is pretty simple.

 

When formatting a text message, the easiest way to think about it would be to treat it as if you were having the reader reading a passage in a book. That means that it would be given its own paragraph and would simply be italicized. You do not need quotation marks unless someone is reading the text message out loud to someone else. As long as you are just trying to show that it is the message on the screen or being read in one’s head, it would simply be italicized.

 

Here’s an example:
John sent a text to Bob.
Hey, man. What are you doing?

 

The second line is italicized since it is the body of the text message.

 

Also, please notice that text message is actually spelled out. A book is a form of communication, and not everyone is accustomed to text-speak. Things like “ROFL” (rolling on the floor laughing) may not be familiar to everyone. The easier you can make it on the reader, the better— especially if you are a writer who is just starting out.

 

There are, of course, always exceptions. If you have a specific audience with a high likelihood of understanding text-speak, such as young adult, then it would probably be okay to use text-speak. The best thing to keep in mind is your audience: if there’s a chance that you may turn readers off to your book by flooding it with text-speak text messages, then spelling things out properly is definitely something you will want to consider.

 

We hope this article will help you along your writing journey. Keep writing and be sure to send us your questions as you run across them. We’re happy to help!

Almost Another Adjective

Grammar Basics Adjectives

 

It has been said that adjectives are like gravy. Nouns and verbs are the meat and potatoes of your manuscript, and you pour on the adjectives to add interesting tastes. But you have to be careful. They can add just the right flavor, but use too many and you can drown your manuscript the same way that too much gravy can drown your biscuits. Some people like to use lots of adjectives just like some folks like to coat their entire meal in savory gravy. Others like only a dribble with just enough to moisten the potatoes. One must be careful not to overturn the gravy boat, though, or you end up with runny goo splashing over the sides of your plate.

 

Adjectives describe nouns. In other words, they describe people, places, things, and ideas. The Romantics reveled in this often overdone part of speech. The Victorians carried on this tradition in a highly verbose manner. When we got to the Moderns (and even more so with the Post-Moderns), the adjective was almost a faux pas. There is no need to follow any hard-fast rules on this matter, but you do have to be careful with the adjective. Mashed potatoes can just be mashed potatoes, or they can be smothered in hot, thick, peppery, scrumptious gravy. One sounds a little plain. The other is drowning the crockery. It is best to find a happy medium. Adjectives add good flavor, but when you add another and another and almost another, then you run the risk of mixing too many flavors in your manuscript. Let your nouns and verbs be strong and bold. Let your adjectives add just the right amount of flavor to spice them up. But don’t overdo it, or you might just end up with a runny, gooey mess.

Our March Featured Author – Cathy Adams

It’s Women’s History Month, and what better way to celebrate women than by featuring an accomplished woman writer. This March’s Featured Author is Cathy Adams, an American author who currently resides in Xinzheng, Henan, China. We had the pleasure of working with Cathy on our fall collection in 2014, Autumn Magic, which featured her short story “Halloween Candy.”

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Cathy earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific Lutheran University’s Ranier Writing Workshop. Her first novel, This Is What It Smells Like, was published by New Libri Press in Washington. She has been published in Blue Monday Review, Tincture Journal, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Shooter Literary Magazine, Santa Fe Writers Project Journal, Best New Writing, Portland Review, The River and Sound Review, Steel Toe Review, and numerous other journals and magazines. Her story “Asphalt Chiefs” has even been nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize for short stories.

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We had the opportunity to catch up with Cathy and discuss writing, reading, and the amazing ability to perceive reality through smell.

 

When did you first start writing?

I completed my first creative writing project at age six, a play with two characters and five lines of dialogue about going out for dinner. It played a limited engagement of about ten seconds in my first grade classroom. My second play, a comedy written in the third grade, was banned before production because it contained the words “Nazi” and “Raquel Welch,” subjects my teacher felt were inappropriate for children’s theatre.

 

Where did you grow and how did it influence your writing?

I grew up in Alabama and was introduced to great southern writers such as Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and Eudora Welty when I was a freshman at Jacksonville State University. When I read my first Eudora Welty story, “Why I Live at the PO,” I felt I had discovered an amazing treasure that I had been missing out on all my life. All three of these writers explored the nuances of southern identity in a way that is unsentimental and unflinching. It’s honest and hard and real. Not always pretty. I admire that forthright examination of culture and try very hard to tap into that vein in my own writing. Sometimes I succeed.

 

How has living and writing in China influenced your writing, if at all?

Oddly, many years before I had any inkling I would end up in China, I wrote two stories about Chinese people living in the south. Both of those stories were published after I moved to China three years ago. So, perhaps my fate has always been tied to Southeast Asia in some way. What I see here in China are people who are basically just like Americans, and in some ways just like southerners. They are just ordinary people who love their families and want a good job so they can live a comfortable life. China has a deeply rooted sense of community, and I think we have the same in southern culture.

Where do you write? Describe this area for us.

My husband, a professional photographer, and I live in a two-room apartment, a bit of a luxury for our area of China. I write on my sofa that faces a wall covered in my husband’s photographs of places we’ve visited. It’s easy to leave in my mind if I need to escape.

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When you aren’t writing, how do you spend your time?

I spend a lot of my time reminding myself to be nice to people because my default position is not to always be nice. My fantasy would be to be able to say what I’m really thinking for one full day, to be completely and utterly honest in my responses to everything that is said to me. I’d probably be deported. All the personality tests I’ve ever taken put me on the extreme end of introversion, probably a good place for a writer to be. I find myself tensing up around other people and wishing I was back on my sofa doing stuff like writing this.

 

What inspires you to get out of bed each morning?

Knowing that I can get back in it that night. Really, I’m a manic goal writer. I have lists of things that I must do each day, and I get a strange kick out of ticking them off. I get out of bed thinking of stuff that must be accomplished. That sounds depressing to write it down. Maybe I should make a goal to write fewer goals.

 

What are your five favorite books, and why?
  1. The Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Houses in New England by Brock Clarke. The narrator is maddeningly self-destructive and darkly funny in a way that made me wish I had written that book.
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Lee got it. She really got what was wrong with southern culture in the early 1960s, and she spoke it on every page.
  3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I really wanted to hate this book because everyone blathered on so about its perfection, and I was terribly jealous. The book turned out to be quite good, so I had to admit the praise was deserved, and my jealousy had to rot.
  4. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. There are scenes in this book that made me have to put it down and breathe, the connection was so great.
  5. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. She was a trailblazing writer who could take the reader into a stream of consciousness lasting only ten seconds in real time but it might take ten pages of reading to get there.

 

What is the best writing advice you can give another writer?

Don’t write for money. You will almost certainly not make any. If you are truly a writer, you will do it because you cannot not write.

 

This is what it smells like-Arron

 

Tell us a little about your book This Is What It Smells Like.

The title has to do with the main character, Val, who has the ability to perceive reality through smell. She knows if a person is lying, what day of the week it is, or what someone is thinking because she can smell it. But like most works with magical realism threaded into the plotline, it is not what the story is about, it’s just one of the ways she copes with life.

“My mother gave birth to me because she wanted someone to fix her a sandwich.” This is how the story begins, with Val’s strained view of her existence with her mother.

At age twenty-four Val has never met her father, Ray. Now he asks to return to her North Carolina home so that he can meet her and die in peace. When he shows up with the step-son no one knew existed and his pet gecko, Val wants nothing to do with either of them, but Tess, her drug-addicted mother, is ready to bring everyone together in one big dysfunctional family.

Val sniffs out a decades old secret between her mother, the brooding priest who has been spying on her from his office window at Edgar Allan Poe College across the street, and the dying father she knows only from old photographs.

The story is funny in a dark way that makes you cringe sometimes, much like a Wes Anderson movie. In fact, I think he should make this into a movie.

The book is available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com in electronic format (only $2.99) and paperback.

 What are you working on now?

Two chapters from the novel I am almost finished revising, A Body’s Just as Dead, have already seen publication and an award. One chapter received the Editor’s Choice Award in the Best New Writing competition for 2015. Steel Toe Review, a literary journal based in Birmingham, Alabama, published another chapter as a short story, “Daryl and Pete-O Go to Walmart.”

My hometown in Alabama inspired the fictional setting for the Boyd family struggling to make it in a world that once embraced the man who lived by the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstrap motto. Now he finds that the world is dying, and no matter how hard he tries to take care of his family, he is economically squeezed such that he must take desperate measures for survival. Everyone, from the mother who tries to keep everyone together with Sunday dinners and vitriolic warnings about “acting right” to the overlooked, quiet teenage son who knows there must be something better somewhere far away, is trying to find a niche in an American Dream that is unraveling before them.

 

 

You can read Cathy Adam’s essays at: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/adamsjackson

 

Her book, This Is What It Smells Like, can be purchased online at:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/this-is-what-it-smells-like-cathy-adams/1109940133
http://www.amazon.com/This-What-Smells-Cathy-Adams-ebook/dp/B009AWATZA

The Crazy World of Indie Editing

The Crazy World of Indie Editing

The Crazy World of Indie Editing

Indie editing is an ever-growing, constantly evolving world of words. As the independent publishing world braces for its predicted lull in 2015, editors are working harder and pulling out all the stops to attract new clients and hang on to the ones they have. Here at Durham Editing and E-books, we’ve decided to weather the changes by holding on to our most basic, fundamental belief: treat each author the way we would want to be treated.

 
In this fast-moving, money-based world, common courtesy is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Oftentimes emails go unanswered, and the replies that do come are curt messages that seem like they were written by a person who would rather stab themselves with their pencil than answer your questions. Once services are rendered, all support is withdrawn, and you are left feeling alone, overwhelmed, and—mainly—unsatisfied.

 
Here at Durham Editing and E-books, that’s just not how we do business. We believe in building an open, honest, and supportive relationship with every writer we work with—no matter how large or how small. We’ve been newbies in the independent publishing world, and we know how overwhelming it can be. That’s why we started this company: to offer top-quality affordable services and support. That’s the biggest difference: SUPPORT.

 
Can’t figure out how to upload to Createspace? We’ll walk you through it.

 
Can’t understand why the last page of your e-book won’t show up on B&N’s previewer? We’ll format the book to override it for you.

 
Just can’t get through the differences between Kindle Select and Kindle Direct? We will explain things as best we can, and if that is not enough, we will offer you as many resources as we can find to help you.

 
Whether you’re a first-time author or a seasoned pro, we are here to help YOU. You will never be alone on your writing journey with us.

 
So, as you try to find an editor who is just right for you, we hope that you will consider Durham Editing and E-books. We’ll be here to help you navigate all the crazy ins and outs of self-publishing, searching for an agent, or just trying to find a way to perfect that book you’ve always wanted to write.

 
If you would like to find out what our writers have to say about working with us, please check out this page:

http://editingandebooks.com/recommendations/

Durham Editing and E-books is here to meet all of your writing needs. Best wishes on your writing journey and may the Lord bless you as you seek to share your story with the world.