Michael K. Brantley

Writer of Creative Nonfiction & Fiction

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My first book is now under contract!

I’ll post more details here as it develops, but my memoir, Memory Cards, will be published in 2015. I signed a contract earlier this week with a small press in Texas and now have to begin making final edits. I’m pretty excited.

“Best” lists always make for debate

Do you think these are really the 200 best American novels? That’s a lengthy list. What book is 201? What is there that shouldn’t be?

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/have-you-read-the-200-best-american-novels/

Weird Al Checks in on grammar

Word Crimes click here

Haiku for You

I don’t write Haiku, but if I did, this would be helpful.

http://www.haikuworld.org/begin/mdwelch.tentips.html

Those Winter Sundays

I keep coming back to this poem because it has affected my writing so much and continues to do so. Robert Hayden’s classic maybe the most famous poem that relatively few people outside “English Studies” know about, so I’m posting it here:

 

Those Winter Sundays

 By Robert Hayden

 

Sundays too my father got up early

and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

 

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,

 

Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

 

Adding more writer resources

It’s been awhile since I’ve checked in here to the blog. But since I got this page up and running, I’ve taken a full time job, expanded the What The Fiction Literary Journal and been plugging away at the MFA.

I have added in more tools on the Writer’s Resources page. Most of these links will benefit college undergrads, high school students and just regular folks. I’ve got grammar sites and some places to just get some interesting reading in.

My goal for 2014 will be to keep adding regular content so you’ll have more reasons to visit. Suggestions or ideas are welcome, and feel free to check out my Twitter feed – I regularly put up interesting sites there as well. And, I will follow back.

Steinbeck on writing

“If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.”

— John Steinbeck

Learning how to use “social media”

So, everybody says you have to use social media today to be successful in your job. The only problem is, very few of those everybodys actually can tell you how to use social media. After all, my Facebook feed is littered with posts about rescuing dogs, what food looks like in various restaurants and memes using old postcard images. Yawn. I’m not sure how any of that is going to help me get more writing or teaching jobs.

As for Twitter, I opened an account when the service went live and then … I did nothing for about two years. 140 characters? How was that going to be interesting? People I connected to  — basically the same folks that were Facebook friends — were posting every thought that popped into their heads. Hey, I’ve got my own problems to deal with, I didn’t need to know how crappy the snack machine was at Bob’s office.

Then a strange thing happened. I found a use for social media.

I decided to experiment with Twitter. I started following literary journals and writers that I liked or found interesting. I followed my MFA program at Queens University. I checked Followers and Followings. I found something unexpected: useful information!

The journals I like post links to other journals that I found interesting. Sometimes, they post submission calls or position openings at journals. My MFA program was Tweeting links to articles about the craft of writing. I found some interesting writers who were posting things they found interesting, and things that could help my writing or submission process. My Follows and Followers grow each day,and I try to Tweet something somewhat interesting at least 4-6 times a week.

Publishers and journals have started to follow me, and this can’t be a bad thing as long as I don’t do dumb stuff like post thoughts about what my eggs looked like at breakfast or where I’m thinking of eating. I mean, each Tweet doesn’t have to brilliant, but if I’m going to make just one (self imposed rule) short statement a day, I have to think about making it interesting, helpful or humorous. I don’t want to be the guy who grabs a six pack and Tweets a movie or his night at the bar.

There are some nice apps to help out with this, including plenty of paid ones. But TweetCaster is great and free. I’m still learning it, but you can use it to ZIP or block worthless Tweeters (or Twits) without having to Unfollow them and hurt feelings. There are also filtering functions. I’ll talk more about that as I go.

So, I’m making Twitter into something useful. I don’t follow celebrities or sports personalities, although lots of people do. After all, I am a writer and should be writing … not following some soap opera between divas or trash talk among NFL players or the guys from ESPN.

Final analysis: Twitter can be more than a plaything or time waster if you can figure out what you want it to do.

For Writers: Picking where you submit

So, in the last year, I have a new hobby. I do it almost as much as I write. Maybe because it is easier, maybe because it is fun.

I am a serial submitter.

As I complete essays, or short stories, or poems, and as quickly as I can revise, I hit Duotrope or a journal’s website and I start submitting. It is kind of like sending off for that prize in the cereal box – you hope you won’t be disappointed with what comes back.

My first submission was part of a graduate class assignment. And it was accepted. Easy enough, right? Well, let’s just say the rejections since then could wallpaper a bathroom. Rejections alone could be a separate thing to write about.

But last week, I sat in on a panel discussion at Queens University of Charlotte about getting published in journals. While there was some credence given to getting some credits under your belt, the concentration was to be selective, study the journals you want to be published in, and concentrate on sending polished, refined work to those journals. Editors of The Gettysburg Review, The Paris Review and Tin House were present.

This sounds great, but also, like more work. I was thinking about all this, and then I ran across an interesting article by the editor of Bartleby Snopes. You can read it here https://nathanieltower.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/choose-your-publications-wisely/ (just come back to my site when you’re done).

Anyway, good food for thought in 2013 … raise the bar. And maybe a glass, in the end.

Read, then Write – A case study

My advisor in my MFA program uses this as his mantra. I liked it when he first mentioned it, thought it was catchy, but as the semester comes to an end, I’ve come to appreciate it more.

One of my assigned texts for the spring is “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” This book was written by the editor of the French edition of Elle Magazine. He had a stroke at age 43, and became a victim of locked in syndrome — he was completely paralyzed except for being able to blink one of his eyes. His brain continued to function perfectly. So, he began to dictate a memoir from his bed, with the help of an assistant, one letter at the time.

In addition to making me re-imagine what a nightmare really is, the book is beautifully written and has a wonderful economy of words and nice use of language. It seems like in every place, the right word is chosen, carefully considered and then recorded on the page. And so it goes with revision.

This book will stick with me as one of those “Read, then Write” examples. I have two CNF essays to complete in the next week, and I’ll be carefully organizing and constructing both of them. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

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