Tag Archives: poetry readings

Open Mic Night: 100-Day Twitterature Novel Starts Monday

Once in awhile, creative insanity comes over me. Working with brilliant college students, as I have for the past four weeks, certainly gets the brain synapses firing and the neurotransmitters and brain cells reconvening in interesting new directions.

And so, beginning Monday, May 15, and for 100 consecutive days to follow, I’m going to Tweet a miniature version of my next novel, Open Mic Night at Boccaccio’s. The idea is pretty daunting, when you think about it: only 140 characters per daily installment, keep the narrative arc in place, entice viewers to come back for more.

I first heard about “Twitterature” at the Winter 2010 Southern California Writers Conference, in an online media class presented by author/social networking expert Lin Robinson. As an avowed fan of flash fiction in the austere, 100-word form professed by one of my writing and editing mentors, Harvey Stanbrough, I filed away this notion of trying to write a book in 140-character bites. If it worked for Cory Doctorow, why can’t I give it a try?

“Open Mic Night at Boccacio’s” is a series of moments, events, readings and interactions between attendees of an open mic music and poetry program at an eclectic Northern California cafe owned by a retired literature teacher-turned-sustainable living practitioner. At open mics, you don’t know what’s coming when a reader or musician steps up to the mike. Sometimes, it’s a song or poem. Or a short story or essay. Or an ongoing series. Or maybe even some local history or comedy. The audience cheers, cries, laughs, sighs, hoots or otherwise reacts in all sorts of ways — at least at Cafe Boccaccio.

That’s half the enjoyment of an open mic. The other half comes from listening to and watching the interaction of the audience, relationships or friendships that literally form over a latte and a night of readings. To me, this is the richness of the human experience, with music and spoken word as the backdrop.

Why 100 installments in a row? Because the book’s title (and the fictional cafe’s name) honors Giovanni Boccaccio, the 14th century Italian author who wrote The Decameron — a marvelous collection of 100 traveling tales, broken into 10 sections, that kicked off an entirely new genre and helped launch the literary side of The Renaissance. For example, Chaucer was highly influenced by Boccaccio’s work when he wrote The Canterbury Tales.

Fittingly, on every 10th day, the open mic will “reset” for its next round on Twitter. I’ll also re-post the previous 10 Tweets in this blog.

So grab your favorite beverage, take a seat, and I hope you enjoy the Twitterature presentation of “Open Mic Night at Boccaccio’s.” See you Monday on Twitter.

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Readings, Teaching Workshops, Going Online

To purchase The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life

To join Writing The World Workshops

During the Southern California Writers Conference, I met the associate editor of Toastmasters Magazine, Beth Black. We talked for a few minutes, and continued the dialogue during the past week. Our conversation pertained to the way writers and teachers of writing have migrated online to conduct all parts of their businesses.

This is a monumental week for me in that regard, in three ways:

• I have joined Harvey Stanbrough and Chris O’Byrne in presenting the Writing The World Workshops membership-based website, with its writing courses, articles, tips and video classes;

• The 7-minute social media and networking tutorial I delivered at the end of my “Your Journal, Your Goldmine” workshop at the Southern California Writers Conference is now available on You Tube and my newest business website;

• Which is the third major development: I’ve joined my longtime friend, John Josepho, in forming Millennium Media Masters — which is all about print and online publishing, platforming, media and affiliate marketing development for entrepreneurs, artists of all media (including filmmakers), musicians and writers who want to get their stories, messages and brands out to their audiences in a variety of different forms.

So when Beth asked me a couple of Toastmasters-type questions pertaining to the online migration, and reading publicly, I obliged. Thought I’d share the answers with you:

Q: If you can give me a quote or two on what it’s like going from the quiet of writing time to presenting in public (or pitching to an agent or publisher), that would be great.

A: Writing alone is very solitary and insular, almost like being in another world — especially when writing fiction, when we should be in another world, the world of our story and characters. Everything happens between the creative and thinking minds. When presenting workshops or talking about writing, we have to carry all this information outward and be crisp and confident when doing so, because attendees are seeking to apply your experience and knowledge to their work. I find it easiest to approach this like a storyteller, weaving together information with anecdotes that best illustrate the point. Pitching to agents or publishers is different yet: I have 60 seconds to interest them and another 60 to 120 to summarize my book — making the ability to communicate verbally and with good expression a must.

Q: Also, if you’ve done any public readings of your work, what’s your take on that?

A: I’ve read from my poetry and essay collections all over the country — Boston, New York, Chicago, LA, New Mexico, Tampa, the South, San Diego, plus a few European cities — Munich, Venice, Florence. I love interacting with the audiences, seeing which poems or essays draw them most or provoke strong responses, and telling the back stories behind the works. It is a great way to see how your writing impacts people — and a reminder that all writers should read their works aloud, to hear their voice.

Next week, we’ll post the three-part series on Platform Development.

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Taylor Mali’s Way of Making a Living

There are many ways to make a living as a writer – and many combinations of projects that can be cobbled together to pay the bills. My book The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life is a by-product of the writer’s lifestyle; among other things, the exercises help all writers expand their potential productivity and value in the marketplace.

My daily routine combines original writing of narrative and poetry, book editing, consulting with authors on editorial and marketing matters, collaborating with other authors, developing new projects, setting up workshops to teach, following up on possible leads, writing book proposals, checking emails from writers, editors and agents, and – with all that extra “spare” time – trying to stay up on reading.

That schedule is easy compared to making a living as a poet. Which is why the rest of today’s blog is dedicated to one of my friends, Taylor Mali, one of the top slam poets and spoken word artists in the world.

Taylor left his job as a middle school teacher in New York City to make a living as a poet. Think about that for a second: making a living as a poet? In America? Well, Taylor has pulled it off, and for good reason – he’s a brilliant poet, and a phenomenal live performer. I just saw him three weeks ago at The Ugly Mug in Orange, CA, and he was as hilarious and poignant as ever.

Taylor’s interweaving of the written word, entertainment, the art of teaching (and I mean art – he was and still is a GREAT teacher), humor and intensity make him unforgettable. At any given Mali event, fully one-quarter of the audience consists of teachers. Just 2 weeks ago at The Write Time Teens ‘N Twenties Conference in Bloomington, IN, creative writing teacher and novelist Missy Feller of Bosse High School in Evansville did a brilliant cover performance of Taylor’s famous poem, “What Teachers Make.” It is a hit with educators and poetry fans worldwide. If you have a “hit” as a poet, a poem people always want to hear … again, you stand among the few.

Now Taylor has a new collection out, The Last Time As We Are. It is brilliant, right down to the last poem – one that will leave anyone speechless who has ever experienced an elder family member in failing health.

Recently, I conducted a wide-open conversation with Taylor, entitled “Easy on the Ears: An Interview with Taylor Mali,” for a sharp new literary magazine, The Hummingbird Review. I invite you to read more about this wonderful man, teacher and poet, one who I believe will someday become the Poet Laureate of the United States.

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Surprises At A Hometown Reading

Sometimes, switches in schedules just work out. The other night, while visiting my mother in Southern California, I was planning to attend an open-mic reading in San Diego. One of the readers, Maggi DeRosa, is a fine young spoken-word artist we have just signed at Aisling Press (www.aislingpress.com) for her first collection, “The Fool Is King.” Remember that name and title: the book will be published in early March, in time for National Poetry Month. Also, in time for Maggi and I to tour Southern California for a series of dual readings from our new books (my next collection, “The River-Fed Stone,” will also be out in March). We start March 15 with the Sunset Poets in Oceanside, headline the E-Street Café March 16 in Encinitas (www.estreetcafe.com), read in North Park on March 18 … and I’ll post the rest of the schedule when it’s finalized.

I digress. Maggi reads once or twice a week in the North Park and Ocean Beach sections of San Diego, and exemplifies one of the great grassroots re-emergences taking place in literature today – the new popularity of poetry among the under-30 crowd. We haven’t seen such interest in spoken word and songwriting in this country since the sixties … and it’s time for all of us to get out and listen. I’m here to tell you, these young poets are not only good, but their material carries wisdom, depth and movement we all need to appreciate and listen closely to.

Only, due to family matters and the necessity to be close-by, I couldn’t drive the hour to hear Maggi read. But since I was desperate to hear new poetry, somewhere, I learned about an anthology reading and signing in my hometown, Carlsbad — the 19th annual Magee Park Poets Anthology, to be exact. I cruised down to the newest library … and walked right into a vital part of my past.

The emcee, and the ringleader of the Magee Park Poets Anthology is Pat Hansen, who I last saw in 1975 when I barely in high school. She was a librarian at Carlsbad Library, and I was a page — a book-shelver. After a nice open-mic from the poets featured in the collection, which opened with a stirring poetic tribute to a recently deceased 15-year-old poet from her 10-year-old sister, Meagan Harris, we shared stories from the library. Pat was thrilled to learn that I’d become a writer, editor, publisher and poet. I was over the moon that she took a love of poetry that I remember well (she once told my young rock-and-roll teenage self why poetry matters to society, including the poetry of rock lyrics, and I apparently listened), and turned it into a vital literary and spoken word community in Carlsbad. Interestingly, my immediate supervisor at the library, Bobbie Hoder, is largely responsible for Carlsbad’s cultural arts development in the past twenty years. It reminded me of how well mentored I was at all steps of my walk as a writer and editor. (If you’re ever in Carlsbad, go to one of the three libraries and grab information – you’ll be culturally nourished.)

As I spoke with Pat, and she thumbed through my collections “Coyotes in Broad Daylight” and “Shades of Green,” which I presented her, two other very sweet memories came to me … the crush I had on a young librarian (though almost 10 years older than me), whose enduring patience with me and her bohemian ways will never be forgotten, and my first kiss, when I was 13. It was with Pat’s daughter, Robin. Those moments were not shared, but just goes to show how chance run-ins trigger memories.

I hadn’t seen Pat in 32 years. But my disappointment in not hearing Maggi read turned into the elation of seeing an old friend do what she loves to do — create a wonderful platform for poetry over three decades and build it for countless poets who have read and sold collections in Carlsbad. Without people like Pat Hansen, we have nowhere to read or sign, and no local contacts to promote our work or create anthologies to showcase new and published local poets.

Thankfully, the featured poets realized that, and thanked Pat and editor Shadab Zeest Hashmi effusively.

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