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Memoir: The Poet In Spite of Herself

The Poet In Spite of Herself

I stood before the audience, my notebook open as I prepared to read an excerpt from my novel The Curate’s Brother. It is a historical romance based off of Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion. It was one of many readings that I would do to promote my new book that year. The moderator of our panel gestured to me and said, “I present to you our next reader, author and poet, Wendy Van Camp.”

I remember blinking and tilting my head to one side, like a puppy that is not quite sure of a knock at the door. I do write poetry, but until that moment I never considered myself to be “a poet”. In those few seconds, before I began my reading, I had an epiphany. The moderator was correct, I am a poet! The irony was not lost on me.

When I was in grade school, I remember saving money from my allowance in order to buy a notebook that had caught my fancy. It had a green cover with gold foil embellishments and the pages were smooth white paper without lines. I put the notebook in a place of honor among my growing book collection, but could not decide what to do with it. Then it hit me. I would fill the notebook with poetry. I had never written a poem before, but how hard could it be? I was already writing novels, stories filled with Tolkien style dwarves and elves or mermaids who did battle with titans. Not that anyone read the stories but my own young eyes.  Poetry would be compatible with my childhood dream of becoming an author when I grew up.

I cradled my green notebook late at night and sprinkled the pages with little ideas that came to me in my dreams. After I had written a dozen poems, my younger brother swiped the book from my room, read my words and then proceeded to mock everything that I had written. I wilted in embarrassment. My parents mentioned that I shouldn’t be wasting my time writing in the first place. I put the recovered green notebook deep into my stacks and forgot about poetry. I continued writing my novels, but since poetry didn’t make money and was not respected, it would not be part of my life.

The years went by and after graduating college, I found myself working in government and corporate television.  My idea of becoming an author shifted into a dream of becoming the next big director in Hollywood. By this time, I had spent the past five years producing and directing a half hour band showcase series called Musician Discoveries in addition to working full-time at the local cable station. Bands traveled from other states for the chance to perform on my studio stage and be featured in my low budget, labor of love.

After going through a few different hosts for the program and the threat of our studio losing its funding and thus losing access to its equipment, I decided that it was time for a change. I ended my musician series and took my programming out of the doomed studio. Instead, I purchased an expensive prosumer camera and software to edit video on my home computer.

The equipment needed to produce television was thousands of dollars in those days and there was no such thing as YouTube or even the Internet to distribute the work. I would have to leapfrog the program on public channels, hand delivering the broadcast quality tapes to the cable outlets. Yet, I felt it was time to go rogue and create television on my own terms.

I needed a new art form to showcase for the new TV series. Music had been kind to me, but I was tired of it. I thought about paintings. The cliché of being “as boring as watching paint dry” nixed that idea. Then I considered poetry. While I had not written a poem since perfunctory assignments in high school, as a director, I didn’t need to create the content. That would be the talent’s job. Readings were dynamic, the performances would be easy to capture and the thought of shooting on location in the various coffeehouses in the city was appealing in its own right. I put the production together and marched forth, a young intrepid television director with a dream to share poetry on my new program Coffeehouse Poetry.

Realty hit hard and fast. The coffeehouses would cancel my shoot time without informing me. One went out of business and I didn’t learn about it until I arrived a few hours before production. Editing on home equipment was more difficult than the broadcast quality machines I was used to.  I was used to editing on analog equipment and my new home studio was in the then-new digital style.  I was never happy with the production values I could afford on my small budget.

And then, there were the poets.

Never had I worked with such unruly creatives in my life. They were demanding, rude, and unreliable. As the months went by, I sunk lower into depression as each setback destroyed my program.  Every time I received a rude letter or phone call from one of the poets, I felt myself give up a little more. The musicians I used to work with for Musician Discoveries understood the value of exposure that television offered.  The poets did not.  In the end, I produced around a dozen programs before I closed my doors. I bitterly swore to myself that I would never work with poets or have anything to do with poetry again.

Fifteen years later, I found myself shifting away from the long hours and stress of professional television production.  Many of the corporations I worked for were sending their work overseas to Japan or Thailand where labor and studio space was less expensive than Los Angeles.  The major studios remained, but I was facing burnout and the thought of the long commute into the city was daunting.

I remembered my original dream of becoming a novelist. My hiatus from writing was twenty years in length, but thanks to intensive training via Nanowrimo, I learned the techniques of writing books and how to market them.  Science fiction is my main genre, but as a side project, I started an Austen inspired romance series.  Since the romances were easier to complete, I published this series first and became known as an Austen inspired romance author.

During my early years of returning to writing, an author friend suggested that I give poetry a try in addition to the short stories.  Due to its brief form, I could write plenty of them, submitting to more paying markets or use the poems as easy blog posts.  I thought about the idea but cringed inside.  The scar that Coffeehouse Poetry left inside me was a large one.  I put the idea aside.

One Friday afternoon, after I had finished placing my wares into a science fiction convention art show, rain threatened overhead. The heat was oppressive in the atrium next to the art show where all the workshop/panel rooms were located. I had planned to stay for the ice cream social that evening, but it was several hours in the future. A writing panel would help to pass the time until the social event started.

I looked at the placards in front of the workshop doorways, but it was early in the day and most of the programming had not started at the convention. However, there was a scratched-in workshop available and its room was close to where the ice cream social was located. I ducked inside.

There were six or seven people in the room, I assumed that they were fellow attendees who would join me in the workshop. The placard said that this was a Scifaiku workshop. I had no idea what that was, but as long as the air conditioning worked and there was ice water available, I was game to give the workshop a try.

The instructor introduced herself and then informed me that all those people in the room were friends that had come to support her class. They were publishers of poetry magazines. I was the only student and she was going to teach me how to write scifaiku poetry.

I immediately wondered if I could get out of the workshop gracefully, but being the only student, I didn’t want to be rude. So I sat back and watched methods of brainstorming poems, ideas of how haiku and science fiction could be merged, and the structure to follow when writing a scifaiku poem.

The instructor said, “Now you will write a poem for the class.”

Me? Write a poem? I hadn’t done this since high school and that was a long time ago. I could hear my brother laughing deep in my memory.  I remembered the poor grades I got in high school during poetry assignments. Yet, I had the format and the brainstorming techniques before me on the blackboard.  I was a writer of science fiction short stories and had the background research of sci-fi concepts ingrained within me.  How hard could this be? I wrote my first scifaiku, the first poem I had created in more than twenty years.

When I was done, the instructor said. “Now, I would like you to read your poem to the class.” I looked around. What class? I was the only student! All the other people in the room were publishers of poetry magazines, some of them with large followings.

I stood up. I read my poem. I sat down.

The instructor said a few words about my attempt. Then, one of the publishers leaned over and told me that she liked my poem and wanted to publish it in her magazine. She would pay me. I took her card with shock.

That would be the first scifaiku I wrote, but not the last. I sold that poem and many more after that. Later, I would illustrate the poems with simple line art and that published too. Then someone suggested that I sell the illustrated poems as art prints and suddenly, I was “an artist”.

Now here I stand, with my notebook before me, ready to read my prose to the audience and introduce my novel.  The ironic laughter within disappears in the face of reality.  I am now the author that I dreamed of being as a child through hard work and dedication. And yes, I am a poet too. As strange as it seems to be after all the ridicule this art form has caused me through the years.  I am the poet in spite of herself.


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Scifaiku: Wendy Van Camp Published in Far Horizons Magazine

Far Horizons Cover february-2018

 

Far Horizons Magazine publishes my (4) poem scifaiku poetry series “Energy of Mars” in their 2018 February Issue. The magazine features science fiction, fantasy and horror stories and poetry and is free to read online. This issue is in cooperation with the small press: Grimbold Books. Come check it out!
https://farhorizonsmagazine.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/far-horizons-february2018-issue.pdf

Scifaiku: Core

Core (blog)

Core
you never disappear
great protective magnet
Earth’s iron soul

A Scifaiku by Wendy Van Camp
Illustrated by Wendy Van Camp

Scifaiku poem inspired by the current trend of the weakening of the magnetic north. Science postulates that the Earth’s poles might flip, as it has done in past ancient eras.

Poem first published: Far Horizons Magazine, July 2017

Components of Your Poetry Chapbook

Poetry Book
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

As a poet, I write and submit my poems, much as I do my short stories. I write a batch of scifaiku, submit it to various magazines and hopefully, see most of it published. As an artist, I take the second step of illustrating my poems and turning them into blog posts, illustrated poems to publish in magazines or to sell as art prints at science fiction conventions. I have a dream to one day create a collection of my poetry to sell as a poetry chapbook.

Whether you submit your collection to a traditional publisher or plan to self-publish your manuscript, there are certain elements your manuscript will need to be ready.

Title

You will need to decide on a title for your collection of poems. Think about the theme of your work and what poems you are going to include in the collection. This will help you determine a good title for your chapbook. I often suggest to make a list of possible titles, pick out three or four favorites from the list and then double check the names on Amazon. See how many other books have the same title as your book. If there are none or only one or two, you have made a good choice. Be unique.

Author Name

Do you use your real name or a pen name for your work? Today, this is not an obvious choice. I know of authors that have different pen names based on the genre or type of writing that they do. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the last author on Earth who uses her real name on everything! Be aware that potential readers are more likely to purchase your book if they recognize your name. Branding yourself as a poet is important. It helps to have published your poetry in magazines for a few years or even to have won an award before you publish your first poetry collection.

ISBN

As with a regular book, owning your ISBN number is an advantage. If you traditionally publish via a small press, they will handle this for you by placing their own ISBN on the collection. If you self-publish, purchasing the ISBN is a good idea. This means that your own imprint is listed as the publisher of record of your chapbook. It gives you more control over the product in the long haul. It is possible to use Amazon’s free ASIN number on your book and if this is your first volume, that might be a good option. You can reassign an ISBN at a later date to your book if need be.

Acknowledgments

This is not a mandatory page in your chapbook, but it is a nice touch to have. It is where you might credit literary journals that first published your poems or a mentor that helped you find your way as a poet.

Table Of Contents

A linkable (in the case of an ebook) table of contents is important in a chapbook. The order in which the poetry is read is part of the overall experience of a chapbook. Unlike a novel, poems could be read out of order and still hold meaning to the reader. Do you want to move the reader in a steady emotional progression? Do your poems tell a story and need to be read in a certain sequence? If some of the poems are related, do you group them together? As you go over your body of work and make decisions which poems you will include in the collection, these ideas need to be decided upon and then reflected in a cohesive index that the reader can follow.

Biography

At the end of your chapbook, include a short Biography of yourself as a poet. Most books have only a paragraph or two. If you have a website, make sure you include its URL. If you have a mailing list, include the link where a reader could join it. In the ebook, the link will be clickable. However, I like to include a QR image of the links here as well. In a print version of your chapbook, these can be accessed by the reader’s phone and take them to the link more easily.

Book Cover and Blurb

A picture says a thousand words, or can possibly sell a thousand books. Put time and energy into your chapbook’s cover. Find a compelling licensed image that speaks to the theme of your presented poetry to use, or hire an artist to create one for you. On the back of the book, you will also need an image, but there you will include a blurb about your chapbook. Tell the reader what they can expect to find inside in a way that would intrigue them to open your book and take a peek. This is a good place to include your poet photo if you wish. I usually do not include photos of myself as an author or poet on my books, but it is an option for you to consider. Many poets do.

Publishing a chapbook of poetry is similar to publishing a book, although a poetry book is usually a slim volume. In some ways, it is more difficult to create than a fictional book because of all the tiny components that come together that may or may not be related to one another. Putting together a book of poetry is an art in itself in addition to writing the poems in the first place. But overall, the advent of modern Print-on-Demand publishing has made the act of creating a chapbook and selling your poetry much easier than it was back in the days of vanity presses. As a poet, you have little to lose and much to gain if you think carefully about the components of your poetry chapbook and publish your poetry to the world.

Author Interview: Angela Ashley

Author Angela Ashley writes to make sense of her world and to create one she can dwell in that is better than her own. Through her characters, she seeks to create people of depth, grace, and bravery, struggling like everyone to survive, and ultimately, to find love and meaning. She is also from my own home town of Lake Stevens, WA. It is a small world indeed! It is my pleasure to welcome Angela to No Wasted Ink.

Angela Ashley 1My name is Angela Craig, and my pen name is Angela Ashley, which was my birth name. I’m a single woman, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. I loved reading books from a very young age. As a child, I loved books about animals, especially The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. After having seen Star Wars in the theater and reading The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper, I fell in love with the science fiction and fantasy genres. When I attended Seattle Pacific University, I knew I should choose a major that would pay well, but I followed my heart instead, graduating with a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in Writing. I wanted to be a book editor but ended up being a home loan processor instead. I spend my free time reading, writing, and posting funny memes on Facebook when I’m not watching TV or movies with my boyfriend and my two cats.

When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve written poetry for years, but my job was so stressful that I found it drained most of my creativity away. And to be honest, I didn’t believe in myself enough to try my hand at writing more than poetry. But when the opportunity came to retire early, I knew what I wanted to do. I began to fill notebooks with my ideas that summer, and for months afterward. I fought through my fear and wrote my first chapter, and then another, and I surprised myself. A part of me had known I had this ability all along, but I’d pushed that voice down, until that moment. Now, I can’t imagine living without writing fiction. I’ve finally found who I am.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I’ve considered myself a writer of poetry since my teen years, but the first time I realized I was a fiction writer was three years ago. As a perfectionist, I didn’t want to try and fail, or even try and just do okay. When I wrote that first chapter, my muse came out in full force, and I haven’t stopped dancing with her since.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

I would describe it as Game of Thrones meets Dances With Wolves meets The Hunger Games meets Downton Abbey. The main character, Little Squirrel, is a native-American-esque teen who has come of age and must go on her Vision Quest. Her situation is unique because she’s of mixed heritage — her mother was First Daughter of House Mystalora in the Queensrealm, a woman-dominated society, while her father was a warrior of the People. While on her Quest, she is attacked and finds she has a very unusual ability. Her adopted brother and her best friend, both of whom are in love with her, find they do, as well. Meanwhile, in the Queensrealm, Kella is falling for Jaereth, a slave, even though their love is forbidden. They, too, realize they have strange abilities. Soon, they all find out they’re pawns in a game, pitted against each other and others, and that only one can survive. This game was created by unseen beings, seemingly for their amusement. But soon, it becomes clear that the real motive goes very deep, and the consequences of this ‘game’ will affect all of humanity.

What inspired you to write this book?

So many things. I’ve long been fascinated by native American culture and spirituality, and I wanted to pay homage to it and explore it with my writing. My grandma used to tell me we had native American blood, and it made me daydream about who they were and how they lived. I love the idea of shape-shifting, and I felt it would work well with the native American themes. But I found I couldn’t stop with that ability; they’re all so fun and provide so many opportunities for mischief. I also love strong female characters and a good dose of romance. But the number one inspiration was that I couldn’t find any more books that I wanted to read. They were all beginning to sound the same to me. So I decided to create my own world and the kind of characters I love, and just live in that world and let the characters inside me out.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I listen to my characters — who they are, what they want to say, and what is important to them. They are real people to me in that sense, and I respect their voices when I write. Oftentimes they surprise me by the directions they take, but I trust them. I know it sounds strange, but it’s the truth. They have a life of their own.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

It came from one of the later chapters of the book. The villain, Malyse, talks about the reason why she began the game. She and seven others had been transformed in an accident and become almost like gods in some ways, and she explains that just as the gods play with human lives on their chess board of life, she intends to play with the lives of others, and “sometimes a gambit must be made, a sacrifice offered, in order to win a game between gods.”

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

My characters talk a lot about love and whether it makes you stronger or weaker, and about whether people can truly be good or evil. I want my readers to draw their own conclusions on these subjects, of course, but I like these kinds of philosophical questions. I’m not one to just take concepts like good and evil for granted; I want to really look at what makes a person one or the other. In my book, several characters had tough childhoods, and one had a wonderful childhood — you would expect the former to be evil and the latter to be good, but it’s quite the opposite. We become good or evil depending on what’s inside of us, not because of what has happened to us.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know or events in your own life?

They are most definitely based on events in my own life. Writing this book was great therapy for me. Father Daven, the priest who mistreats young Wilde, is built from my alcoholic Stepdad, Dave, though the abuse Wilde experiences are much worse than the abuse I experienced. The five sisters locked in a closet came from the fact that my grandma and her four sisters used to get locked in the closet as children, and some of the names are the same. My experiences with narcissists created my villain, Malyse, and the fact that Little Squirrel comes from a broken family unit and feels like an outsider is a direct result of my own childhood, though I wish I had a father figure like Miklos, as she does.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

The idea of being “Chosen” and having special abilities likely came from Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series. Later in life, the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin fired my imagination, and I took the idea of each chapter title indicating which character perspective that chapter would be from, from that series. I loved the first person present perspective from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and enjoyed how real it made the action feel, so I borrowed that, too.

If you had to choose, is there a writer you would consider a mentor? Why?

I would have to choose Suzanne Collins. The immediacy and nitty-gritty realness and imperfection of her characters and the action, plus their bravery in the face of terrible odds, really changed the way I looked at and approached fantasy fiction.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

My beautiful cover art was created by Loraine Van Tonder of Ryn Katryn, Digital Art in South Africa. I decided to search on Facebook for a true artist since I thought so many of the self-pub covers coming out nowadays were so one-dimensional and uninspired. Her artwork, in contrast, was so beautiful and nuanced. She was so easy to work with and friendly and had wonderful ideas that really took my cover to the next level. The colors immediately grab your attention and draw you in, and the character renderings make you want to know more about them. Seeing her cover art for the first time was one of the highlights of my life. She managed to capture the magic, somehow.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Don’t listen to that little voice that says you can’t do this. You can. Fill a bunch of notebooks with ideas, then sit down and start writing. Just start. That’s the hardest part, and once you do it, keep going. Don’t stop, ever. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but it’s so worth it, I promise you.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Welcome to my world, and I hope you love it as much as I do. Thank you for believing in me, and please, tell others. I’d love to hear from you, so don’t be afraid to reach out on Facebook, Goodreads, or Twitter, though I don’t use Twitter much. I’m always looking for new friends.

Gambit of the Gods Book CoverAngela Ashley
Lake Stevens, WA

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Gambit of the Gods

Cover artist: Loraine Van Tonder of Ryn Katryn Digital Art

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