KaBooM WritersKaBooM Writers

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

Welcome to the online presence of KaBooM, a writing group that has sustained the creative lives of a diverse group of women for over a decade. We hope that getting to know us will inspire you, too!

The KaBooM Writers Notebook: Our Blog

On the Subject of Book Fairs

Last week I had a conversation with a nice man who anticipates his self-published novel arriving at his house any day now. “Once they arrive,” he asked me, “what do I do next?”

I thought about this conversation Saturday as fellow KaBooM members and I sat in the middle of Main Street in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, in 90-degree sunshine. Our umbrella tent provided some shade but was unable to keep us from noticing how heat shimmered above the asphalt or how good it felt to pour cold water over our heads and let it trickle down our necks.

Harrodsburg’s first Festival of Books and Arts coincided with an unseasonably warm June day in Kentucky, which meant that the crowds of book buyers were thinner than might have been expected, and, as a result, sales were lower. Had the newly-published novelist been present, he might have been disappointed by the results of his day and the undiminished stack of books in his trunk.

I concluded that you have to attend book fairs and local festivals for a multitude of reasons, not all of which include selling lots of books and making lots of money. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.

Those other reasons might include the following:

  • Meeting other Kentucky authors. We were happy to chat with the famous and the soon-to-be-famous authors and publishing house representatives who happened by.
  • Noting how other writers go about making a sale. Those authors who sell books are accessible and inviting when browsers happen along. They make eye contact. They chat. They answer questions.
  • Checking booth arrangements for clues to success. Another writer also sold bracelets; Accents Publishing gave away pocket-size notepads. A basket of candy can help attract potential customers; if you are afraid the candy will melt, a vase of flowers is eye-catching.
  • Figuring out what equipment to invest in: Umbrella tent? Portable chair? Cash box/credit card swiper? Tablecloth? Display signs? Cart on wheels? Long-suffering friend, spouse, or partner who will help you with all this stuff?

And most importantly, recognize that you won’t sell out every single Saturday. Marketing your book is a time-consuming and time-spanning endeavor. You may have to convince yourself that the best reason to attend was to get your name and the name of your book before the public eye one more time.

How Bullriding Is Not Like Judging a Literary Contest

This week I attended a bullriding contest and I judged a literary contest. I observed some differences between the competitions. In bullriding, it’s the rider, the clock, and the bull. The rider who stays on the longest wins.   That is the simple method of determining the winner, without consideration for style, or conflicts overcome, or originality in setting or situation. The story is always the same. The bull wins.

In a literary contest, there are many variables, the most crucial being the judge’s sense of what is the most valuable characteristic of a written piece. After years of judging, teaching, and writing, I’ve decided that structure matters very much. Is it a story, first of all? Does it satisfy the requirement that there is a conflict that has been dealt with? I read first, not in an analytical way, but for pleasure. One of the pleasures of reading a good story is the sense of satisfaction and completeness a reader feels when the story ends, as in the stories by Kim Edwards, Michael Knight, Charles Baxter, and Barbara Fisher. This understanding is felt or known, but the reader may not immediately be able to articulate why the story has created such satisfaction. Then, if one is a judge, one can return to the story and see how and why she felt that the story was successful. I start with that response to a story. Then I consider voice, vision, and acumen with language. Once, in the past, I liked the third place story best, because of its language and imagination and voice, but I did not choose it as the “best” because its structure was more flimsy than the winner’s was.

I find that a number of stories show tremendous promise but have been sent out before they are completely finished. That is the most common reason why a story does not win. It needs a few more turns on the spit, for more fat to drip out, more flavor to be tendered in.

Bullriders rarely go into the ring until they are ready. There’s too much at stake. For writers, submitting to subjective judges, it’s harder to know about  a story’s readiness. So I suggest that writers master structure as a necessary skill. If you do so, you will go far in your quest for the prize.

Comments (1) — Categorized under: Creativity,Lynn Pruett

Try again. Fail better.

Once school is out, at our house the summer break means everything changes: the habitual imperatives lifted, all the rhythms of our days are renegotiated.

I’m recognizing both the opportunity this change in daily obligations presents to us, and am also feeling the weight of possibility.  Several weeks ago I spoke to a writer-friend who finished the first draft of a novel and shed some work obligations so that she could concentrate on revision and re-writing.  Yet even though this was her intention, she declared, her immediate response to an open schedule was to get less writing done!  Once she eliminated the usual time constraints that used to press her to squeeze in a little writing here and there, the wide open field of newly available time quickly got filled with neglected household tasks and other activities she’d pushed aside in her previous desire to just get some pages done every single day.

This complaint is not new to me: many writer-friends have observed themselves in similar predicaments—what seemed like a good change to “free up time” instead disrupted former habits, and meant that they were getting to the page less than they used to be when they were busier.

Grateful for this reminder, I’ve gone back to my own beginnings, and picked up two supports that helped me first establish a writing time.

First, I’ve started yet another “process journal,” a place where I’m recording which habits or practices help me get to the page and those that prevent my attending to my own work. Simply observing and recording my successes and failures helps me bring attention and intention to daily writing during a summer that lacks the usual structure in my schedule.

Second, I’ve picked up, yet again, a wonderful book by Gail Sher called One Continuous Mistake. The title comes from her chapter of the same name where she reports: “The effort to stay centered in one’s self, minute after minute, is what Dogen Zenji meant when he said that Zen practice is one continuous mistake” (page 54).  Thus, the Zen practitioner never attains complete attention, but also never allows her failure to discourage her. Instead, she keeps returning to her effort.  That continuous return is a kind of success which all the failures do not wipe out.

So I begin my summer with a sound bite running through my head—this very truth, as Sher reports Samuel Beckett using in his writing instruction: “Try again. Fail better.”