ORIGINS: Cris Mazza’s “Something Wrong With Her”

Something Wrong With Her VBT Banner

In today’s jmwwblog, Cris Mazza discusses the origins of the cover art of her new memoir, SOMETHING WRONG WITH HER as part of her virtual book tour.

The cover of SOMETHING WRONG WITH HER was changed after the original release date. Needless to say, this is a very unusual occurrence and not one that is usually advantageous to a book’s entrance into the world. In the case of this book, however, it’s part of the whole story. Since I couldn’t get the cover-change into the text of the book itself, I’m happy to have it play out here.

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The original cover existed for a full year before the release date, residing on my publisher’s forthcoming-books page. When I first saw the concept, I liked it. The book’s interior format contains images from a handwritten 30-year-old journal. Designed by my publisher, Debra Di Blasi, the original cover had a page of that journal as a screened background, and utilized notebook paper “holes” as a motif (inside the book as well). Because there is a “real-time” aspect to the memoir—including revision comments in sidebars—we used my handwriting to edit the subtitle to highlight that motif. Because the content of the memoir includes female sexual dysfunction (the medical term), my publisher thought it would benefit marketability to include the controversial word “frigidity” on the cover, but in my handwriting as an author-edit because I had discussed the inflammatory nature of the word inside the book. The military-font “stamping” of the word “wrong” in the middle of the title seemed to suit the theme of women viewing themselves as inadequate, or just plain “wrong,” in the face of culture’s capricious standards. It was a piece of a phrase that appeared many times in the hand-written journal, and obviously also points to the topic of sexual dysfunction.

But something happened on the way to the printer.

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Actually, with an interior format as complex as it was (and the sample page above is one of the simpler designs) the production of the book was taking longer than usual. Meanwhile, interviews with me were starting to appear when the original pub date came around, including some radio interviews on relationship-advice shows. But there was no book. The production dysfunction was beyond my publisher’s control: a new Adobe software had been introduced, replacing the one she’d been using, and the new program wasn’t ready for prime-time. At the same time that the government’s Affordable Healthcare website was crashing, the new bookmaking Adobe software was crashing during my book’s production. The healthcare website was fixed and running a full month before my book was able to be released.

In that amount of time, I had started working with a publicist. In a conference call with my publisher, the two of them discussed the cover. My publisher had already received some initial feedback that the cover was imposing, strident, that it announced negativity. Yet the memoir itself was imbued with a poignant story about reconnecting with a boy (now a man) from my past and the relationship with him that began to grow while I was writing the book. The development of that relationship is contained in the memoir—it’s the other “real-time” aspect of the book: as I dredge up and examine the memories, I am communicating with this man in e-mail. Those e-mails tell parts of the past story (from both perspectives) as well as the story of re-connecting. My publisher and the publicist both thought that the marketing—starting with the cover—should emphasize the reconnection story over the sexual dysfunction story.

Thus, Debra created a new cover and subtitle for the my book’s “second” release, 2 months after the original pub date.

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The whole motif of the “notebook” (with the 3-punch holes) was replaced with a design that indicated nostalgia: a yearbook photo on a soft yearbook-like album cover. The photo itself (yes, me) was black-and-white, so the publisher colorized it, further giving it a wistful effect (yearbook photos from before my time used to be hand-colored by the photographer).

The motif of using my handwriting was continued, but the subtitle replaced with “A Real-Time Memoir,” to highlight the love-story aspect of the memoir.

Since the process of writing the book is part of what the book’s about (including how the love story impacted the writing), then the story of the cover-change both represents and broadens the book’s whole idea.

What these changes say about how a book attracts readers is now up to readers to make known to us. I’d love to include responses in the book itself, but production does have to stop somewhere. Maybe to-be-continued.

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Baltimore Poet to Source Poems from The New York Times and others During National Poetry Month

carlaCongrats to Baltimore resident CarlaJean Valluzzi, who is one of 78 poets from seven countries selected to participate in the OULIPOST project this April. Coordinated by the Found Poetry Review, the initiative unites authors in applying the constrained writing techniques of the Oulipo group to text found in local newspapers. Valluzzi will be using The New York Times and others as her source text for the month.

OULIPOST is inspired by the experimental writing practices of Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle — or “workshop of potential literature”) writers. Founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, the group encourages the application of writing constraints to generate new structures and patterns.

“Oulipo constraints provide poets a chance to break free from the restrictions and challenges they face in their everyday writing practices,” noted Found Poetry Review Editor-in-Chief Jenni B. Baker. “We’re encouraging writers to be bold, take risks and write about topics they normally wouldn’t touch.”

Examples of the writing constraints poets will face range from relatively simple—a tautogram in which every word in the poem must start with the same letter—to a sestina, a fixed verse form consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, followed by a short three-line stanza. In all cases, the words and phrases incorporated into the poems must be taken from the poet’s local newspaper.

“I’m exceedingly pleased and honored to have been chosen to participate in this exciting and challenging endeavor for National Poetry Month,” explains Valluzzi. “Poetry, both the reading and writing of it, is as close to a religious experience as I’ve had.”

This is the third year the Found Poetry Review has led a project for National Poetry Month. Last year, the journal enlisted 85 poets to create found poetry from the 85 Pulitzer Prize-winning works of fiction as part of its Pulitzer Remix project.

Keep track of Valluzzi’s progress on her blog, at imisspaperletters.com. View updates from all OULIPOST poets at http://bit.ly/oulipost.

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Interview with Linda Simoni-Wastila in Writers Digest

Linda Simoni-Wastilajmww senior fiction editor Linda Wastila is interviewed in Writers Digest about her other writing love, poetry, her favorite poets, her favorite locales for poems, and her favorite things about poems themselves:

I like lean poems, ones that use few words well. I also like poems with endings that make me pause, make me wonder, make me read back to the beginning and go ‘ah.’ Most of all, a poem must be elegant and have an armature, be it meter or rhythm or structure, invisible at the surface but noticed when read.

Her poem “Hotdogs on the Grill” is also featured! To read more, go here:

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Closed for Submissions!

We are currently closed for submissions while we add the finishing touches to the spring 2014 issue of jmww. We’ll reopen again in mid-April. Happy writing until then!

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PARALLAX: Speculation by J. Barook

PARALLAX: Seeing the same thing from two different points of view renders three dimensions.

According to Wikipedia, parallax is a displacement or difference in the apparent position of an object viewed along two different lines of sight. The essays contained in PARALLAX reflect the same displacement. While the shift can be uncomfortable or jarring or even unrecognizable, a new reality is created from the old.

Another colleague was killed last week, stabbed to death by “unknown assailants.” Everybody’s careful not to spread rumors about who killed him or why, considering the politically charged environment in a part of the country with ethnic tension and an election coming up next Valentine’s Day. They put a picture of his punctured body in the newspaper that didn’t look like him at all. He was a sweet guy. Last time I saw him, we were drinking beer after a workshop talking about family. He had a wife and three kids. I had a wife and two. At a certain point, people got up and started dancing and shouting and laughing, people just having a good time. Suppose I should follow their lead and resist speculation as to who killed him or why. Last time this happened, they never caught the killers anyway. I couldn’t get anybody to tell me who they suspected then, either. Eventually I got a pretty good picture after a few late night drinks with folks. That time it had to do with corruption. This time, I’m worried it might be more political. But I shouldn’t speculate. It’s dangerous to speculate. You can make things worse. So I won’t. Anyway, I have no evidence for anything. Just that he was a politically important guy and things have been heating up over there for a while. But I won’t speculate. Anyway, this is just too sad and exhausting.

My wife’s at the gym right now. My three-year old is taking a nap upstairs. My six-year old is outside, playing on the wood pile in his glow-in-the-dark skeleton shirt. Sid the Science Kid is still playing on the TV to an empty living room.

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jmww is now on twitter!

pencilerasersYes, we have liftoff! It’s official! Follow us at @jmwwjournal for all our latest news and random musings.

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jmww Inaugural Poetry Chapbook Contest Winner!

carouselWe’re thrilled to announce Jess Poli as the winner of the inaugural jmww poetry chapbook contest, for her collection titled Glassland.

As described by contest judge Oliver de la Paz: “The poems in Jessica Poli’s remarkable chapbook, Glassland, are little dioramas. Behind the glass enclosure are heartbeats fraught with all the wonder and despair of loves and losses that have outgrown their housing. A door melts behind a person leaving. The barns are ‘half-eaten/in the dark.’ Somewhere, the ‘lighting/ connects to the machine.’ The poems in Glassland give a sense of the fragility of aquarium glass, and yet the foundations, the flesh, bear up the heavy weight of our humanity.”

Many congratulations to Jessica as well as to two finalists—Iris Dunkle and Michelle Peñaloza— who were also honored by Oliver as runners-up.

We would also like to thank and congratulate the other contest semi-finalists, and to send our appreciation out to all contest entrants. In addition to the winner and finalists, the semi-finalists were: Clare Banks, Roy Bentley, Jackson Burgess, Linda Dove, Brad Efford, Sherine Gilmour, Piotr Gwiazda, Alec Hershman, Leah Huizar, Leonard Kress, Kelly McQuain, Megan McShea, Jessica Pierce, Leah Silvieus, Valerie Wallace, Barrett Warner, and Harold Williams.

Thanks again to all, and much appreciation to Oliver for judging the contest. We’re very much looking forward to working with InkPress Baltimore to publish the winning entry!

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2014 Chesapeake Writers’ Conference at St. Mary’s College of Maryland

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The Chesapeake Writers’ Conference at St. Mary’s College of Maryland is in its third year, and we are excited to have four great faculty members returning—Liz Arnold (poetry), Ana Maria Spagna (creative nonfiction), Matt Burgess (fiction), and Patricia Henley (fiction). Join us on the Maryland’s Western Shore—five minutes from the Chesapeake, ten from the Potomac–for a week of craft talks, lectures, panel discussions, and readings, as well as daily workshops in fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction. This year we will be offering course credit for college students. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

For more information, visit http://www.smcm.edu/summer/writing/conference/index.html.

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ORIGINS: “Krakatoa Picnic” by James Heflin

JamesHeflinIn today’s jmwwblog, James Heflin discusses the origin of his poem “Krakatoa Picnic,” which appears in the Winter 2014 issue of jmww.

If the Big Bang and the expansion that followed had gone slower or faster? No stars, no planets, no Nabokov. Though also no Duck Dynasty or The Eagles, so not all bad news.

The same is true of many another thing—if the fundamental forces of physics were slightly different, no humans. For that matter, if the Earth were a little farther away or closer to the sun, no people.

So when it comes right down to it, we must be really lucky to be alive. Then again, there’s a fairly recent (50ish years old) idea in the world of physics and cosmology called the Anthropic Principle. It sounds almost silly, especially when paraphrased without the mantle of sobriety that comes courtesy of its scientific terms. The universe is full of remarkable coincidences that allow for our self-aware existence, it says, and that’s really nothing to get your mind blown about, because if those things hadn’t happened, well, we wouldn’t be around to scratch our heads over them. Because we can do that, those unlikely things are true.

Another way of looking at it, courtesy of the multiverse idea that calls for the existence of an infinite variety of universes—some like ours, some so different that in them, bacon smells terrible—is that we exist in the only universe in which we can exist. There are many others in an unreachable “out there” that have never seen and will never see life.

For me, this idea is a convergence of religion, science, and art. It is one of the few instances of science asking the decidedly non-scientific, more properly religious or poetic “why?” It’s a weird thing to ponder. We wander around doing our human business, buying milk, fretting over the mortgage. Yet here we are, our very existences, no matter their dull details, an honest-to-goodness miracle.

Maybe it’s unremarkable, something that’s true because it couldn’t be otherwise. Yet to think about it is still to enter a rabbit hole, like staring at yourself in the mirror too long, or wondering if you would be you had your father married someone else.

Pondering the weirdness of simply being alive, the oddity of our helpless intertwining of the majestic and mundane, brought “Krakatoa Picnic” into being. It was, I think, conceived in a moment like the one that closes the poem, a moment of watching birds, with their animalian lack of circumspection, search for worms in the yard. How miraculous. How ordinary.

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ORIGINS: Three poems by Sara Burnett

Sara Burnett Face ShotGracing our Winter 2014 issue of jmww are three poems from Sara Burnett that contemplate volcanic disaster and its aftermath: “Woman Picking Olives in Catania,” “At the Mercato di Porto Nolana,” and “Empedocles’ Shoe.” In this ORIGINS post, she describes more specifically for us how the first two of these emerged.

Full disclosure: I have never been to Sicily. I have had to imagine it all in these poems.

And I had to do a lot of research for these “volcano” poems (and even more sexy than a lot of research, I had to stare at portraits and sift through pictures of vases hoping that if I looked long enough I might be pulled into one of their stories, which to some extent happened). What initially drew me to writing a series of poems about Etna, and to a lesser extent Vesuvius, was a fascination with the idea of consciously living so close to impending natural disaster. Safe at my desk seemed as good a way as any to explore it for me unless someone offers me a paycheck to write in Sicily (please consider it). The towering figures of Etna and Vesuvius are literally and figuratively hard to ignore (although Vesuvius is quite a bit smaller at just over 4,000 feet). Having lived under the gaze of these volcanoes for centuries, I wanted to know how the landscape and the people were affected. Even if Etna never erupted during one’s lifetime, a person would still live with the culture of Etna—her historical and mythological presence. At the heart of my inquiry and my poems was the question: What is the human relationship to volcanic disaster? From there, there are three smaller questions that I sought to understand in the poems: What it is like to live with impending doom? What is the fascination with volcanoes and why does it exist? How does the human imagination in myth, art, song, and poetry interpret the volcano?

In total, I wrote more than a dozen poems about this topic. Many of the poems I wrote seem to be written at that safe distance of the observer looking at the disaster. It is my hope that “Woman Picking Olives in Catania” and “At the Mercato di Porto Nolana” are closer to the experience of what it is like to live closer to the volcano. They were the most fun to write. “Woman Picking Olives” felt very near to me in the sense that I felt that the poem conveyed how it might feel if the volcano had never erupted in one’s lifetime and then suddenly it did. I wanted the poem to have a timeless, mythic quality to it, so I omitted historical references. I also thought about how things are always happening in the world and within the earth that we are unaware of as we go about our daily lives, and this notion seemed applicable to how it might seem to witness a disaster. The incomplete, trailing thoughts as well as the long dashes and ellipses I used emulate how one might experience the disaster even in the act of recounting it after. The blending of night into day seamlessly and without suspicion of the volcano’s eruption seemed appropriate because day and night temporally speaking are a human construction. Nature’s sense of time is much different. The image of the stone pine tree, which the poem hinges on (“that heavy cloud—like a stone pine tree rising and spreading its branches”), I recollected from Pliny’s letters when he viewed Etna erupting from a distance. It refers to a specific type of conifer found in the Mediterranean. The poem “Magdalene” by Marie Howe served as a model for me for trying to hold simultaneous temporalities while conveying the magnitude and quickness of disaster. In that poem, the disaster is her brother’s death from AIDS and her writing helped me quite a bit in shaping the poem and I give her credit for it in the epigraph.

In “At the Mercato di Porto Nolana,” I wanted to write a poem that took place in a modern moment, which seemed important to balance the collection that was forming. I thought of how people in an urban area are buffeted by changes in nature. What might it be like to live in a thriving city even though there is a volcano well within view? Naples seemed an obvious choice. From there I thought first about writing about a fisherman’s perspective, but once I began taking notes and researching, I realized I was more interested in the fish and in fish selling in an open market in particular. The frenetic energy of business and exchange in Naples shows our oblivious disconnected state from the natural world. The real chaos may not be in Vesuvius but in the marketplace. The packaging and repurposing of objects such as a kitschy T-shirt of the naked torso of Michelangelo’s David or a pile of dead fish freshly caught from the sea and beautifully arranged on display are distractions from Vesuvius. I used tourist accounts, guides, and also my experiences of being in other Italian markets to create the setting. The piles of dead fish in the poem became a central image not only because I find something beautiful and morbid in those glistening silver stacks, but also because fishing is one of the most ancient trades where man was intimately connected to the whims of nature. Fish, moreover, precede humans as a species. If we were to think of them as collective beings (which of course we normally do not), fish have seen and experienced more than us. I thought also there was a parallel between how the fish experience disaster and us. For as much as humans like to think themselves superior, impervious to nature, if a disaster strikes, many of us would be “still and stunned” like the fish caught at sea at the end of the poem. Or perhaps that’s just how I would be.

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