The People Who Write Questionnaire: Maritza Rivera

Maritza Rivera_peoplewhowrite

Maritza Rivera is the author of A Mother’s War, and founder of Casa Mariposa Press and the Mariposa Poetry Retreat.

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
A certain theme would run through my title selections: The Adventures of Butterfly Woman; The Butterfly Diaries; Mariposa Metamorphosis.

What is the greatest story ever told?
This is a very difficult question for me as a poet. Regardless its length, a poem can potentially be the greatest story ever told. I love “Parsley” by Rita Dove; “Alabanza” by Martin Espada; “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams; “Killing Mark” by Richard Blanco. I can think of so many poetry collections that tell stories: Pinecrest Rest Haven by Grace Cavalieri tells you about Mrs. and Mrs. P, who live in a nursing home and no longer remember that they are married. I heard Grace at a reading and the poems made me laugh and cry; Saudades by the late Jose “Joe” Gouveia is a great example of a life’s story; Hachiko Waits and October Mourning: Songs for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman, also life stories.

Since we all have stories to tell, I’m sure our greatest ones are yet to be told.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
Hmm? I grew up in Puerto Rico so there are literary characters that most people have never heard of. I love the character of Juan Bobo (literally, Stupid John). He is a male version of Amelia Bedelia who takes everything very literal but politically pokes fun at the Jibaro (country bumpkin) in Puerto Rico. The stories are touching, bittersweet, and have a moral at the end. When I had young children, Madeline and Babar were my favorite characters and go to books for them. I loved their adventures.

But for me the greatest literary character is Don Quixote. I think there’s a connection among my favorite characters and poetry. Life is such an amazing and magical adventure!

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Definitely, Pablo Neruda! He would have dinner parties with other artists of the time and I love the idea of potlucks and salons. I’d have a long list of living writers, musicians, visual artists, and dancers I would invite.

What is your favorite word right now?
Phenomenal: I find the sound, its positivity, and spelling fun!

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Hispanic is used to refer to Spanish speaking people but the letter “h” is silent in Spanish. It sounds strange to hear the “h” pronounced. Latino, which includes more countries and languages, makes better sense to me. I have a poem about this.

How many words have you written today?
Well, if you include emails, texts, Facebook, responding to your questions, probably over a thousand by now and counting. ☺

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
I think I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had some amazing writing experiences. First was the 2012 BID International Writers Fellowship in Bahia, Brazil where we met and then the 2013 Breadloaf Writers Conference in Sicily, Italy. Both of these exposed me to other writers and new environments, and the fact that I speak Spanish has come in handy in both places. I’m looking forward to writing in Paris some day.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
Obsessing, I once spent a year trying to get the last line of a poem to work.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
I love the magic. When you get an idea that you can’t wait to write about then lose all track of time while doing it. Then you create something that never existed before and others enjoy or relate to it. Garcia Lorca called it “duende”, I call it magic.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
Writing is a difficult profession, especially writing poetry. Many authors who make it, and are able to earn a living at it sometimes forget how difficult it is to get your work recognized and published. One of the reasons I started a poetry series, a poetry retreat, and now a small press was to make the process less painful and help other poets get a good start, build confidence and create community.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
I think people make the assumption that writers are unapproachable, self-absorbed, and that writing is a lonely art.

Writing is about connecting with people: on the page, on the stage, in person, and mostly across the table. Creating community among writers and across the arts is phenomenal.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
Most people don’t know that I’m the grandmother of two beautiful girls: Carmen and Sofia and have another grandchild due in November and that my children Maria Teresa and Antonio Roberto have been my biggest inspiration and motivation.

I also read tarot cards, used to own a ball python; and that besides poetry, I’m passionate about dancing.

The People Who Write Questionnaire: Jakki Kerubo

Jakki Kerubo_peoplewhowrite

Jakki Kerubo, a recent graduate from New York University’s MFA program, is at work on her first novel.

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
Fasting, Feasting

What is the greatest story ever told?
The story of Adam and Eve. These characters “lived” thousands of years ago, yet the male/female dynamics in the human mating ritual remain relatively the same.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
Allow me to nominate an author as a character: Niccolò Machiavelli. When an author’s work becomes a political/psychological thought that forms part of the dark triad, he deserves to be a character. Today, with the gift of social media, the manifestations of the dark triad are so apparent!

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Coffee with Milan Kundera in Prague. I’m dying to know if, and how, his thoughts on immigration and nostalgia have evolved post-Internet, social media, and the narrowing of geographical boundaries.

What is your favorite word right now?
Strategy.

How many words have you written today?
684

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
In my dreams (seriously), and usually after a night of music and dancing, or after a spiritual experience. Dreams hold so many secrets and ideas.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
My characters become family. When writing the first draft of my novel, I had a character who got murdered in Kenya for being gay. He had become like a son to me. I agonized over it on the D train to and from work for weeks. It was much easier to rewrite the draft without his character than to have him killed so brutally.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
The power of the pen to influence lives, to entertain, to discover.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
Writers can drink a lot for different reasons; but it’s not true that all writers are alcoholics who drink two gins before lunch.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
Writing, even when impressed upon a writer as a calling, is hard labor. We sweat. We sometimes cry. We do numerous rewrites. And we collect tens of rejection letters during a lifetime.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
I’m reserved.

Jakki Kerubo is currently completing her first novel, Between Nairobi and Here. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from New York University in 2013.

A Grammar Lesson from "Weird Al" Yankovic

“I hate these Word Crimes!” “Weird Al” Yankovic bemoans in this parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”. Calling out lazy language use in emails, and texts, Yankovic uses clever wordplay and double entendres to highlight common grammatical and spelling mistakes. “One thing I ask of you,” he raps, “time to learn your homophones is past due. Learn to diagram a sentence too. Always say ‘to whom’, don’t ever say to ‘to who’. And, listen up when I tell you this: I hope you never use quotation marks for emphasis. You finished second grade, I hope you can tell, if you’re doing good or doing well…”  Watch, feel chastised, and take note.

HarperCollins' Relaunched Site Encourages Readers to Buy Directly from Them

HarperCollins site features prominent Buy Button_peoplewhowrite

HarperCollins’ site features prominent Buy button.

Should publishers focus on selling books directly to customers, Calvin Reid’s recent piece on Publishers Weekly asks, referencing the relaunch of HarperCollins’ website. I think the answer is yes. And writers should be direct selling too.

The internet has made it possible, and in many cases necessary, to create one-stop shops for all manner of experiences and commodities. People increasingly want to visit one destination that enables them to learn, browse, and shop; and they want to do so at the destination they choose, whether that destination is a bookstore (brick and mortar or online), an etailer like Amazon, a book review community like Goodreads, a writer’s website, or a publisher’s website.

In his PW article, Reid points out, “in a time when physical retailers are under intense competition from Amazon and other online outlets, many publishers remain leery of even appearing to undermine booksellers.” This is likely the reason many houses have been loath to build out their retail and fulfillment capabilities. But the reality is all entities online are competing, in one form or another, for eyes and shares.

As Russell Grandinetti, Amazon’s senior vice president for Kindle, recently told the New York Times’ David Streitfeld, “You have to draw the box big. Books don’t just compete against books. Books compete against Candy Crush, Twitter, Facebook, streaming movies, newspapers you can read for free. It’s a new world. It’s so important not to simply build a moat around the industry the way it is now.” It’s up to each entity to create a distinct enough brand experience and offer consumers a differentiated experience.

Is this call to shore up their direct selling function a distraction from publishers’ primary role? Sure, but it’s the world we live in now. Writers have had to become publicists, marketers, and more as constrained resources have made certain publishing services a privilege reserved only for legends, veterans, and bestsellers. Agents’ roles have morphed too. Publishers also need to adjust to the new normal.

In the end, a publisher, or writer, that’s better at direct selling won’t preclude an expert bookseller from courting and keeping a consumer base. More likely, it will force all involved to become better at differentiating their services to customers and others in the publishing ecosystem. And it will make it difficult for one entity to hold the market, and industry, captive.

Okwiri Oduor Earns 2014 Caine Prize

Okwiri Oduor, Winner of the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing - peoplewhowrite

Okwiri Oduor, Winner of the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing

For her short story “My Father’s Head“, Okwiri Oduor has won this year’s Caine Prize, edging out a shortlist that boasted Tendai Huchu, Diane Awerbuck, Efemia Chela, and Billy Kahora. Comparing Oduor’s style to that of James Joyce, the chair of the judging committee Jackie Kay cited Oduor’s “extraordinary amount of control” in delivering a “subtle, tender and moving” short about memory and mourning. Kay added, “It is a story you want to return to the minute you finish it.”

The People Who Write Questionnaire: Baze Mpinja

BazeMpinja_peoplewhowrite

Baze Mpinja is a widely published beauty writer and editor with credits including Glamour, Marie Claire, People Style Watch, Essence, and Style.com.

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
She’s Come So Far

What is the greatest story ever told?
They’re not necessarily the greatest, but slave narratives are some of the most important stories that need to be told and re-told.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
Wow, that is so difficult to answer, but Delores Price from Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone is a character that has stuck with me (as you can tell by my answer to the first question). Yep, I’m gonna count that as literature.

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
So many writers intrigue me! Maya Angelou (I mean, of course). Also Stephen King because his book On Writing had such a big impact on me. Colson Whitehead because his work is very memorable and that’s ultimately the kind of writer I want to be–one whose words are memorable. Edward P. Jones because the story of how he came to win a Pulitzer is so unique, and Judy Blume just because that would be a blast.

What is your favorite word right now?
Incredible

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Ocean

How many words have you written today?
About 500.

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
Still waiting.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
The self-loathing that it dredges up.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
When it inspires others to open up and share their stories.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
We’re drinkers and big-time procrastinators.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
That we’re socially awkward hermits.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
How painful the process can be for me sometimes.

From 2007 – 2011, Baze was a beauty editor for Glamour magazine and a contributor to The Girls in the Beauty Department, Glamour.com’s beauty blog. Her television credits include The Tyra Banks ShowThe CBS Early Show, the WCBS evening news and The Style Network’s Glamour’s 25 Biggest Dos & Don’ts. Prior to Glamour, Baze served as beauty editor for Vibe Vixen, a girly spin-off of the music titleVibe. She was also the associate beauty editor for Suede, a multicultural fashion and beauty magazine. Baze is currently a freelance writer and her work has appeared in Marie ClaireEssenceBridesManhattanPeople StyleWatch and online at Style.com, Refinery29 and Cosmopolitan.com. She is also the founder of Beautycism, a blog that examines beauty in the media, pop culture and real life.

The People Who Write Questionnaire: Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Poet Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie is the author of Karma's Footsteps_peoplewhowrite

Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie is the author of Karma’s Footsteps (photo credit: TSE 2014)

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
Burn.

What is the greatest story ever told?
The African proverb “until the lions have their own storytellers, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” is something I live by. It is encoded in my DNA. The greatest story ever told is the lions’ story when told by the lions.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
Ohh, I can’t give a real answer to this. I have not read enough to say. I would need to be fluent in every language to think I had a clue. But Janie Crawford and Jesse B. Semple spring to mind. Janie amazes me more every time I read Their Eyes Were Watching God. She is courageous and sensual and she lives from her heart. I first encountered Semple when I was about 16 and I still love his voice. His wisdom. His humor. You know who else? Indigo from Ntozake Shange’s Sassafras, Cypress and Indigo. Indigo is so magical and folk. She is a real child of the earth and the old ways. A healer. She is a great reminder that folk(s) is magical.

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Ntozake Shange! James Baldwin! Impossible to choose between them. Not that I would utter a word in either of their presence.

What is your favorite word right now?
Gravitas. It sounds like what it means and it’s rhythmic.

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?
Quixotic. I have to look it up every time I see it.

How many words have you written today?
I wrote five pages in my journal. I don’t know how many words that is though. I never count words unless it is for a bio.

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
Anytime the writing works I’m beyond thrilled. I must say that my experience writing a novella while I was a student at Mills College in Oakland was pretty damn amazing though. The work just flowed there. I had a ritual: I’d go to the library, put on headphones and write. I’d listen to the same musicians every time. The characters just spoke. No prodding or struggle. I’d always leave with something solid.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?
I absolutely love writing. All of it: the pen in my hand, the paper, the way time stops. I like squinting at what is on the page and reading it aloud and scribbling things out and adding other things in. I even like letting the work breathe and going back to it. When I type it up, that means I am making it official. Working with editors (friends are unofficial editors at times) is the thing that leaves me frustrated, sweating, wringing my hands and wondering what the hell I was thinking when I decided to answer the call to write. Once that process is over though, I am always glad I was open to it.

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
The surprises. There are so many. And I feel clearer after I write. Or more confused but at least I’m clear that I’m confused.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
I know so many writers that no stereotype fits. I will say that I think all writers either are or were outcasts at some point. Even if that feeling was only in our heads, somehow we have felt like outcasts and that led us to the page. We could create new worlds or grapple with the one we were in through words.

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
I operate as a poet, even though I write fiction and non-fiction, I approach things with a poet’s sensibility. The biggest misconception about poetry is that it is NOT for the people. That it has to be hard to understand. There have been occasions where I’ve read my work and people say that it was the first time they could understand poetry. That is the biggest gift anyone could hand me.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
I like to curse. I have a really loud laugh. I dig fashion — not trends but style, aesthetics, well-made clothes, textiles, and color.

Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie’s first book of poetry Karma’s Footsteps was published in 2011 (flipped eye publishing). She is the poetry editor of the literary magazine African Voices. Her work and creative life are the subject of the short film I Leave My Colors Everywhere. Tallie has read her work and lectured at universities and colleges across the United States. She is widely published in anthologies and journals including North American Review, WSQ, Specter Magazine, Mosaic, Bomb, Crab Orchard Review, Oya N’ Soro, Drumvoices Revue, Role Call, and Revenge and Forgiveness. Tallie earned an MFA from Mills College in 2002 and has taught at Medgar Evers College and York College in New York City. She is one half of the recording duo The Quiet Onez. Her cinepoems, herbal workshops and performaces can be seen at www.ekeretallie.com

After Stephen Colbert Push, Edan Lepucki's Debut Tops Powells Bestseller List

Edan Lepucki's debut novel California hits the bestseller list after push from Stephen Colbert - peoplewhowrite

Edan Lepucki

Maybe all the publishing industry needs is focused and targeted support of new, untested authors by star scribes and bestselling veterans.(See: the time when David Sedaris surprised author Tim Johnston with an endorsement of his novel Irish Girl.)

Ever since Stephen Colbert recommended fellow Hachette author Edan Lepucki’s California (in response to bruising negotiations between Amazon and publisher Hachette Book Group), it has become “one of the most preordered debut titles in Hachette history”. The New York Times adds, “Little, Brown and Company, the Hachette division behind California, has increased the initial print order and doubled the length of her author tour.” (Wait, she got an author tour? :-))

The article is careful to add: “Even before the boost from Mr. Colbert, California was receiving praise from respected novelists like Jennifer Egan and Ben Fountain and popping up on summer reading lists. Little, Brown ultimately printed 60,000 hardcovers.”

Perhaps the most ironic (and awesome) detail of Lepucki’s story is that her husband works for Goodreads, which Amazon acquired last March. Seems the power doesn’t necessarily lie with any one retailer or publisher or prize. A reader’s decision to pick up a book comes down to what it always has — a powerful recommendation (or three).