Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Reporting on poetry.

The Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Saddlebag Dispatches is now available, and it’s a keeper. Most of its pages, rightly so, honor the late, great Dusty Richards—founder and executive editor of the publication, as well as award-winning author and all-around good guy. A car accident took Dusty’s life earlier this year, and his passing was noted in a post at the time.
But, as always, there’s more to the magazine. Including a big, colorful article about one of the world’s best Western celebrations, the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada.
I had the privilege to report and write the story, and illustrate it with photos I took (despite specious rumors and claims to the contrary) at the 2018 Gathering. Quoted in the story are first-time visitors and some who have attended for years, as well as poets.
My regular “Best of the West” column features the great Western movie High Noon.
The story—and all else in the magazine—are well worth a read. Visit Saddlebag Dispatches for online access or to order a printed copy.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 44: Editors Love Enthusiasm.

Once upon a time I wrote a short essay about passion—being passionate, following your passion, lack of passion being a fatal flaw, that sort of thing—rendering my opinion that the whole notion is overblown.
It caused something of a stir. Some agreed with my ruminations, others did not. One reader (and fine writer) opined that passion was a prerequisite and that fire and enthusiasm for the work were important considerations for editors.
Perhaps. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with being passionate about your writing if that’s what butters your biscuit.
But it ain’t necessarily so.
A reliable—but not precise—accounting of editors I have worked with includes some 15 or so with magazines and periodicals, at least two dozen on anthologies of short fiction or poetry, and somewhere north of 20 in the process of getting books, both fiction and nonfiction, into print. Some editors I have worked with on only one or a few occasions; several of them many, many times.
None ever asked about, commented on, or required enthusiasm—passion—on my part.
But I have absorbed a few notions about what seems to be widely regarded among the red pencil set. Here’s some of it.
Good ideas are valuable. Not just ideas that are good on their own, but good ideas that fit the nature of the editor’s requirements. It should go without saying that they expect quality writing—well-structured and readable and all that, with a certain amount of flair. Research—when applicable—should be thorough and your facts should be straight; even fiction should feel credible. Your manuscripts should be clean; as free of typos as possible with proper grammar and punctuation and spelling and such.
Finally, and probably most important, editors like reliability. If you meet deadlines, keep your promises, and do what you say you will—and are asked to—do, you’ll be doing everyone a favor. Including yourself and your career.
If you’re passionate on top of all that, fine. But don’t plan on enthusiasm alone getting you through.
Woody Allen is credited with this little bit of wisdom: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” In the broader sense, that advice certainly applies to writing.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Really Stupid Words, Chapter Two

American English is a rich language. It’s always changing and evolving. New words and usages come and go. Many that come along are helpful. They clarify, they improve, they enhance and enrich.
But some are just plain stupid.
They obfuscate, they complicate, they confuse. They reveal a lack of understanding.
Think about “proactive.”
I was surprised to learn that it has been around, in a limited way, for a long, long time. Fortunately, no one used it much until, say, 30 or so years ago. Since then, it has become one of the most overused words in our language. Not only in business circles, where made-up trendy buzzwords often find a home, but by regular folks, as well.
It’s supposed to mean the opposite of “react” or “reactive.” Apparently, no one stops to think that those words are opposites of perfectly good words—act and active—so don’t really need an opposite themselves.
If “active” doesn’t seem to fit, try “aggressive” or “concerted” or “determined” or “resolute” or “take the initiative.” We could go on.
Whatever words you choose to describe an active approach to something, there’s no point, really, in resorting to a stupid, meaningless, but apparently important-sounding (to some) word such as “proactive.”
Therefore, I will be proactive in my efforts to eliminate it.