My Second Hand Books

I got a request from a reader to re-blog this–so enjoy! It’s from 2010 but still holds true.

Dear Diary: Second Hand Books
Posted on February 6, 2010 by Miriam Sagan

A friend and I were recently in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. We went into the Black Cat Bookstore and discovered a local author with an interesting book. We each bought one, and complimented her. She immediately told us everything wrong with the book.
“Just say thank you,” I told her. Bossy advice, I know, but still good advice. And advice I was given many years ago.
My first book of poetry had come out. My sister-in-law Suzi was dancing in dinner theater in Connecticut. A fellow dancer said she liked my book. I was so stunned I basically told her that wasn’t possible.
Suzi took me aside. “Say thank you,” she instructed me. I have been ever since.
We stopped in Albuquerque on the way home. My friend, a well-known writer, asked the bookstore owner if the store had any books of hers. The owner recognized her and was pleased when she signed books. “Do you have any books by Miriam Sagan?” my friend asked. “Sometimes,” the owner replied and I was duly introduced.
Who has sold my books back? It is disconcerting. I see a letterpress limited edition inscribed something like “To Becky and Paul, thanks for the wonderful day at the ranch and the great lunch. Love, Miriam.” Who are these people? Ranch? Lunch? If it was so great, why can’t I place them and why didn’t they keep my book?
I once got a note from Australia. Someone had bought a book of mine in a second hand store. He liked the book, but wanted to know about the affectionate inscription. Who was it inscribed to? Why had she sold it?
Maybe I am just too gushy. I feel bad if I don’t find my books on the shelf and bad if I do. Next time I give you a book, just say thank you.

The Wind Takes Away The Pages of The Book I am Supposedly Revising

I’ve been working on a short book, another memoir in the same style as GEOGRAPHIC—flash prose mixed with poetry. It’s about my father, his death, my near death experience as a young woman, and more. I’m about a year and a half in. It is called BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE—and much of it has been test driven on this blog.
I printed out a copy to read. Despite my lifetime of being a writer, my emotions began to swing wildly—it was so smooth and lucid, it needed a huge amount of editing, I finally told the truth, the flow was off, and on and on—back and forth.
In the morning cool before the full heat of the day—heat made even less tolerable from all the smoke of the zero contained wild fire to the south—I sat outside on the patio by the roses, the garden freshly watered. Two curve billed thrashers were visiting the damp from their usual home in the front yard’s cholla, currently blossoming crimson.
I popped inside to refresh my cup of coffee and came back to find an almost imperceptible wind had scattered the first thirty pages. Luckily they were more or less numbered consecutively. Cursing, I picked them up, sorted them back together. One page was gone—maybe wind, maybe a printing error.
I sat down to read in earnest. It’s really quite good. I love it—at least so far. Let me just say I’m glad I wrote it. I’m grateful too to find myself still young at heart as a writer—worried, neurotic, self critical. I’m grateful I have problems to solve. I’m grateful my skill set is finely honed and I can solve them. And I am most grateful to the problems of writing I still can’t resolve, because it allows me to continue.

Speaking of GEOGRAPHIC (Casa de Snapdragon, 2016) last night we found it it won a Southwest Book Design Award!


Should Literary Magazines Charge Reading Fees?

Should literary journals charge submission fees, and perhaps more centrally—should writers pay these fees? This topic is apt to spur a debate on Facebook and elsewhere. But I want to examine it on a basic level: i.e. are editors and writers adversaries or allies?

If adversaries, the answer is no. This line of thinking would be that editors are trying to rip literary writers off. I find this difficult to believe, having been an editor of one sort or another side I was sixteen. Why would a person become a small press or literary editor—a thankless unpaid task—in order to exploit writers?

So let’s assume editors are supporting writers. This leads to a more ambiguous answer.

The ever thoughtful Devon Miller-Duggan has this to say about fees:

“I think it sucks and, in cases of institutions with big endowments, is unethical. But I also understand it, particularly with journal submissions, as a kind of repugnant, but desperate response to the impossible flood of submissions that have follow on the heels of simultaneous submissions becoming the norm. Tim Green at Rattle did a detailed post a couple of years ago (he’s ferociously opposed) in which he worked out the math and made it clear that the journals are not making any money on their $3. fees. Contests are different, though still irritating. I think that money goes to pay the judges and help with the prize money most of the time, though I do like it when the press sends me a book in return for my entry fee. I am effing sick of paying entry fees, mind you, but it’s the reality.”

My advice about contests may address this in a somewhat roundabout manner. I don’t suggest you put a lot of effort (or fee money) into contests. That is because your chance of winning a contest is much lower than having a manuscript accepted by a press you actually have a relationship to (follow, purchase from, read, admire). Contests have thousands of submissions—the average press is not that inundated with possible books.

If you feel you MUST submitted to magazines and contests with fees—give yourself a budget. A budget used to go to stamps and envelopes. Now it can go to fees. Set your budget for the year, don’t go over it, and tax deduct it. You’ll feel better if you exert some control.

The opinion from Alicia Marie Rencountre-Da Silva is representative of how fees negatively affect writers:

“I think it is a really hard thing to see something like a residency that we already know will be highly competitive and then to see that they charge 35 or 50 or 25 just to read our 250 word application and look at our work. If they need money I believe it should be factored into their costs in other ways.

For me it erodes my own sense of worth and place as an artist and writer. I feel “slighted” irritated and a strong sense of aversion and even bad-will or judgement towards the executer of the residency or exhibition or contest.”

However, there are some interesting perspectives outlined below by engaged artists.

Nate Maxson: If I can pay the submission fee and it’s not egregious, I don’t mind. It helps independent publications stay in operation. It’s not like anyone is getting rich off small press poetry. Lots of writers look at submission fees with the mindset of “but what does this do for ME?” and I find that smallminded and self centered. Gotta support your literary community.

Danny Sagan: It is difficult to make a living in the arts these days. If an organization needs to charge a fee per submission in order to keep the organization that publishes or exhibits in business, so be it. Think of it as crowd sourcing. I would pay a fee to be listed in a directory. There is a local gallery in town that works on a membership basis. We get to see the work, they get to exhibit it. The rent gets paid. No shame in that. If the government would subsidize what we all do , we would not have to pay to play, but this late capitalism in America.

Steve Peters I would never pay to submit to a journal. I mind less for residencies and grants if it’s a reasonable fee – I’ve been on enough panels to know that it is a lot of work to go through many proposals and I wouldn’t do it without being paid.


One additional note—it is worth asking that a fee be waived—not for a contest but for a residency application or even graduate school. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Grad schools often will, and I’m guessing well funded residencies will too.

My personal policy is to not complain every time a call for submissions comes up with a fee. I just pace myself, paying a very occasional fee for something. I also don’t do much in the way of multiple submissions. I know that is anathema in today’s world, but I don’t feel I need to flood magazines with my work. But the heart of my submissions policy is to see writers and editors as connected, and necessary, to each other.

Can I Count Lunch As Part of the Project?

My daughter Isabel and I were recently evaluating a “failed” project. We’ve done a fair amount of collaboration, and are currently focused on collage—mostly words and suminagashi, which is Japanese marbling. We had some chai and sat in the community college courtyard under the redbuds.
First, we addressed the project’s strengths:
1. The collaboration had gone to a new level.
2. We’d made big strides with our largest technical problem.
And, I wanted to add
3. We had fun because we spent the night at the old hotel in Ojo Caliente and had a great lunch at Gabriel’s on the way there.
“You can’t count that,” Isabel said.
“But we had fun! We got to work at Ojo!”
“You always want to count fun…you give your projects points if you get to stay in a hotel.”
“Of course. I count it a lot.”
“You can’t. It isn’t part of the project.”
I caved. From the start with our collaborations, she is ultimately in charge. She’s younger than me, knows more about art, and I figure we should swap out the old hierarchical pattern. Isabel had the final say. Only two strengths. A full evaluation of the audience, setting, etc. A take away directive for each of us, mostly to be clearer in how we communicate with the outside world.
But I just have to ask—would you count lunch? The guacamole at Gabriel’s is truly excellent.

Looking for the Right Place to Write

IMG_1257 Spring cleaning is a great activity, but it also tends to make me notice the areas of my house that are just too funky or even gross. I actually decided the best way to deal with the disgusting cabinets was to buy a new house—but a bit of house hunting disabused me of this notion and I’m looking at new cabinets instead.
However, I’m currently driven to distraction by feeling I don’t have quite the right place to write. Why? I don’t know. I have a charming 100 square foot studio in the backyard, freshly cleaned. (Too chilly). I have a nice spare bedroom full of sunshine and geraniums. (No desk). I have a spacious office at work. (No window). Confession: I’ve been writing at my friend Kathleen’s house. But that is a very short term solution. Besides, we’ve been sharing our writing and working on a schedule. It’s fantastic, but not ordinary life.
I’ve been at three writing retreats in the past twelve months. I have no reason to complain. But I’m restless. (Spring fever?).
I’m not the only writer with grandiose needs. Over spring break, in Charleston, we visited a beautiful site near the shore called ”Atalaya Castle.”

Wikipedia says: “Atalaya Castle, also known as Atalaya, was the winter home of industrialist and philanthropist Archer M. Huntington and his wife, the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, located in Huntington Beach State Park near the Atlantic coast in Murrells Inlet, Georgetown County, South Carolina.
Archer Huntington was a noted scholar of Spanish culture and art, and designed the residence in the Moorish Revival and Mediterranean Revival architecture styles from Spanish Andalusian coast models.”
Basically very spacious, with studios in the wings, so the creative couple didn’t bump into each other much. It is a scenic ruin, now. Well, Moorish architecture with palm trees does ruin well.
Living with a spouse who also works some days a week at home I’m thinking I need a wing. Or a condo.



The End of Procrastination: Part 3 by Devon Miller-Duggan

I feel like I should say that this is not a story of how I was shaped/wounded by my upbringing. Not a whine, either. I know when I’m wallowing in the sadnesses and violences of my childhood, which I can spend eons doing. This isn’t a wallow. This is figuring out, and being almost amused, or mildly amused to have figured out an origin.

I think I must have hated all that change much more than I was aware of. The parental stress, the new places, new schools full of kids I was fairly sure would think I was just fat and weird, the sense of powerlessness and undefended-ness. Nothing unusual in any of that, really. I’ve heard military kids talk about the same things—and some of them adapt gorgeously, becoming, well, highly adaptable and capable adults. I haven’t exactly crumbled under the weight of the various bumps of my childhood, either.

But I think I’ve maybe been having a decades-long, heels-dug-in tantrum about change. And a decades-long wallow in the discombobulation of change. So I’ve spent decades compensating for the instability of the first 12 years of my life. Some might say that that constitutes just a teeny bit of over-compensation.

I’m 60. I think that means that my job from here on in is to do the best and most that I can for as long as I can. And that includes wasting less time beating myself up for not-entirely-bright behavior patterns. I have no idea whether this morning’s “no-duh, Devon” epiphany will bear much fruit, or change the pattern. But it will at least allow me to chuckle at myself and my slight tendency to react to many things an itty-bit hyperbolically.

Creativity Interview with Kirpal Gordon

Have you ever set specific creative goals for yourself?

Such as?
Sitting still until the line, word, rhyme, sentence, paragraph, tale comes through.
Sitting still through revisions until I’ve erased the separation between my intention & execution.

Did you “succeed” or “fail”?
I “failed” my way into “success” via draft after draft after draft, often even after the work has been published.

How have these goals changed over time?
I’ve been writing since grammar school & have abandoned many of my own illusions about commercial & artistic recogntion that brewed under the surface as I came of age. I’ve also let go, to some degree, the professional jealousy that exists in our “industry” in favor of connecting to writers whose work inspires me. I think I’ve also “discovered” my own voice & the themes I started w/ in 1965 are the same themes that call me to write in 2013.

How successful have you been at publishing or showing your work?
I’ve been lucky to have found indie publishers who have thought of me as one of the innovative writers of my generation; unfortunately, these indie publishers have had little clue regarding how to market my work or their own press. As a freelance ghostwriter for Planned Marketing Associates & other clients, I have written a ton of marketing material, so I know what it takes, but I’ve yet to work w/ an indie house that allocated a budget for marketing their books.

In the past decade, have you been able to bring your work out into the world?
Over the last two decades: 24 titles, ie 7 major books & CD, 17 booklets/limited editions via 9 presses.

Are you satisfied with your ability to engage with new technology?
Not entirely. I’m not a technologist, marketer, self promoter or much of a social networker, but I am building a team w/ folks who possess those skills & more.
POD via Amazon’s CreateSpace has allowed me and team to produce our own books & share profits better, but we have not yet really penetrated what we think of as our niche market.

Kirpal Gordon, born and raised and presently living in New York City, is the author of New York at Twilight: Selected Tales of Gotham’s Weird & Eerie, thirteen intersecting short stories; Round Earth, Open Sky, a sci-fi Native American road novel; Ghost & Ganga: A Jazz Odyssey, three intersecting novellas; Eros in Sanskrit, Lyrics & Meditations, 2007-1977 and its companion CD, Speak-Spake-Spoke, with the Claire Daly Band. For more on his books and performances, see

Be Here Now–or maybe not: Salida, Colorado

It is lovely here in the artist’s residency in Salida. There is always a remarkable sense of decompression when I get some solitude with the expectation of writing–and some conflict too.
When I was young, youth wasn’t the only thing wasted on me–so were Yaddo and MacDowell. I spent a month at Yaddo in my mid-twenties–morose, with a useless boyfriend, and a bad head cold. I was also trying to read The Brothers Karamozov, which did not help. I wrote a few poems. It took me several more residencies before I could get the peace and quiet to actually work for me.
There was a fifteen year period where I was home with the family–the first residency after that (in Marfa, thanks to Lannan Foundation) had the excitement of the escape from Alcatraz. Alone! With myself and poetry! Eating odd little meals! And unbelievably, cable T.V. (I’m still not sure why this devil of temptation was there but I enjoyed it).
As a grown-up, residencies present me with various problems. The first is fun. Can I have it? And how much? Here in Salida, for example, I can
1. write
2. walk around a charming mountainous town
3. eat out
4. shop
5. look up various acquaintances
6. swim in a large pool of glorious hot spring water
7. sleep
8. read
(these last two might be part of writing)
9. start driving around to other charming locations
10. get my hair cut
11. oh, write some more…
These leads me to some musings on “being in the present moment” as it is something I do not believe in. A hallmark of New Age thinking, maybe from the Human Potential Movement, it eludes me. Moments cascade by me mixed with the past, with memory, regret, hope, fear, a huge rushing input from the senses, the click of biologic time, awareness of my body, and much more. What present? What moment? I’ve sat zazen, played with koans, said the shema, been to the wailing wall, recited a mantra–and I wouldn’t know the present moment if it bit me.
There are three cut pink peonies in a vase on this table. Two are withered. I’ll change the water.

Did you want to be a writer (or an astonaut) when you were a child?

Did you want to be a writer when you were a child? Are you one now? Why do interviewers always ask this question. Do people ask firefights if they wanted to be firefighters as children? Astronauts?

Sari Krosinsky I always ask that question b/c I’m interested in other people’s origin stories, but now that I think of it I only ask people in the arts. Maybe I should start asking everyone. 🙂

• Paula Marie Castillo part of the whole commodification and separation of artists from the rest:) but I did want to be a writer when I was young!

• Julia M Deisler I suspect firefighters and astronauts are probably asked those questions, too. I’m not sure that teachers and cashiers (just giving examples…) are very often asked if they are doing what they dreamed of when they were children.

• Paula Lozar I didn’t “want to be a writer”; I just wrote. Didn’t think of “writer” as a career path until I was about 10, probably under the influence of “Little Women.” But there was such a disjunction between Jo March’s struggles to “be a writer,” and the fact that writing came as naturally to me as breathing, that I began to doubt whether I was a serious writer. Then there was the whole “starving artist in a garret” myth: writing was all well and good, but you couldn’t make a living at it. So I mentally dismissed writing as something I did for fun, and set out to qualify for a Real Job. (The irony is that, after trying for years to get a teaching job and not succeeding, I ended up in technical writing — and did a lot better financially than I ever would have as a teacher.)