Slam Poetry: What I’ve learned by Slamming

For the last few months, a friend and I have been trying out Slam Poetry. We love watching/listening to Slam. We love to read and write poetry. So, the next logical thing was to do it!

As an introvert of the highest caliber, I dread speaking in front of people. And speaking poetry puts my nerves into the stratosphere. Add to that the fact that my friend and I are both very much NOT the average slammers. We’re well past the traditional high school/college age of the average slammer and quite a bit paler. That’s not to say great slammers aren’t either of these, but they are fewer and farther.

So what I’ve learned:

  1. It’s scary, but…: Sure, you soil your boxers as an introvert and an outsider. But I’ve learned so much about myself and about slam and about poetry and did I mention about myself?
  2. The audience is heavenly: OK, terrible song reference there. The truth remains, though. Even if you screw up, the audience gets behind you. Case in point: The first time I did an incredibly soul-bearing slam, I forgot my lines part way through. FOR NEARLY A MINUTE. I stood up there staring at the audience. Things went quiet. Then people start to snap fingers, then root for me, then outright applause. Eventually I remembered the line and finished strong…ish. The response was amazing! My highest score to date! Granted  I was penalized for running over the 3 minutes. I’ve never felt better about failing in my life!
  3. It’s about the learning: Sure, I’ve learned about slam and I’ve written some new poetry as a result of all of this. But best part is, I’ve learned about myself. I learned that I CAN memorize entire poems (6 so far!). I also learned that fears aside, I’m capable of performance spoken word. And do it well enough that I’ve placed 1st a couple times and made the top 3 more than 2 other times. And the poems I’ve written have really made me dig deep into my soul and my unfinished past and unthwarted demons. I’ve become a better person all around.
  4. Community: The other performers and poets are so supportive, so brilliant, so poetic, so loving, caring, inviting, everything! They are not snooty or discriminating against anyone like you’d expect poets to be. Well, like I expect poets to be…says the poet.
  5. It’s not about winning: As one of the hosts of ABQ Slam says after every vote, “Fuck the score! Give it up for the poet!” And he means it. Everyone means it. There is no animosity for winners and winners are humble.

In all, I learned that Slam Poetry is about the poetry. It’s about the pain, the humor, the feels, the art, the beauty and the hideous, the hate and the love, the life and the death.

 

Recent Writing Successes

I’m rarely one to speak of the successes of my life for two reasons:

  • Partly because I don’t think I’m that good.
  • Partly because good things seldom happen (aka see first reason)

However, the last couple of weeks have seen so many great things happening, that I need to talk about it to someone. And, by someone I mean the nobody that reads this blog.

First, I participated in a poetry open mic at Voices of the Barrio. Since one of my favorite slam poets, Marcial Delgado hosts this event, and since it was his poem about his mother that inspired me to write my most recent poem, I read that one. It was the first time reading it publicly. It was one I struggled to get through without losing my shit and crying like a little boy, but I did it.

Not only did my reading go well and many people support me afterward with with kind words and hugs. But ABQ’s Poet Laureate Jessica Lopez gave me a kudos!!! This is on par with someone meeting their favorite musician and having them say, “Dude, I like your riffs.”

Second, I’ve been participating in a 24 Hour Short Story Contest for about 3 years. It happens every quarter. I’ve never won, but nearly every one of those “losing” stories has been published elsewhere.

But this past week, I made honorable mention for a story I didn’t expect to place with because it’s a prequel to my as of yet unpublished YA trilogy.

Third, I participated in the Short Story Challenge. Round 1 results came out yesterday and I made it from 36 people into the top 5. So I move to Round 2. Round 2 start tonight.

In all, it’s been an amazing few weeks for my writing life. I’m hoping this continues. We shall see.

Facing Fears as a Writer with Poetry Slams

It’s probably true of most writers, we’re naturally introverted creatures who tend to take criticism to heart. But selling myself and my writing and taking constructive criticism is a necessary evil I’ve grown to tolerate.

However, I always loved Poetry Slams and always wanted to do one. Of course, doing a slam requires writing poetry and getting up in front of a crowd and performing said poem and following up said performance with a loud and boisterous vote on how good, or shitty, your poem was.

When I’m watching slams, I can’t help but think I want to do it. I get the bug. I get an itch that can’t be scratched. Then, I found a writer friend (Robin Reynolds – well known for her Ink and Alchemy project) that also wanted to attempt a Poetry Slam. So we made a pact. We would each do it the following month. Put up or shut up!

Fast forward 3 months.

We’ve competed in a half dozen Slams. Mixed success I must say. HOWEVER, we are up against people who have been slamming for YEARS. We even compete against the biggest names in New Mexico! Robin was even invited and competed in a Women’s slam.

Does it still scare the crap out of me to get up in front of drunk strangers and perform gut-wrenching poetry to be judged by the masses? HELL YES!

That said, I have to say, it’s made me a more confident writer, poet, and self-supporter. The audience is almost ALWAYS supportive. Only the judges have been jerks…but if you’ve been to slams, you know that’s part of being a judge.

Even when I forgot my line for nearly a minute. A full minute! I stood up there and stared at the room. Everything was silent (IN A BAR)! Then the cheers started happening. Then the clapping and the “You can do it!” I finished…eventually. Fist bumps and great score and cheering brought me back.

What I’ve learned: You really do just have to get yourself out there. Nobody will promote you except YOU! And, when you do promote yourself, honestly, and truthfully, others WILL support you! The love you feel in a Poetry Slam room is downright intoxicating.

So, if you want to come see me perform, check out my Events page and join me!

Reasons to NOT do NaNoWriMo, and why those reasons are bogus!

It’s that time of year again when hundreds of thousands of writers and would-be writers converge on a global scale to unleash the novel within them. And every year there’s a new group of eye-rolling naysayers that complain that NaNoWriMo is the opposite of what any writer should do.

I’m here to dispel these arguments once and for all.

Argument #1: NaNoWriMo confuses discipline with motivation

Here the argument is that one should write every day in order to excel at something instead of getting excited and running right out of the gate. And, there’s some truth to that. You can’t expect to write for 30 days out of 365 and become a master storyteller.

That’s not what NaNoWriMo is. WriMo is about breaking through the barrier that is the blank page. It’s about having writing coaches and encouragement. It’s about learning that “waiting for your Muse” is no way for anyone to get better or even do ANYTHING.

NaNo takes the motivation and excitement, builds on it, and makes you keep going for 30 days. At the end of 30 days, I’ve met few who reach the 50k goal and DON’T keep writing. Why? Simply put, it creates discipline.

Argument #2: NaNoWriMo trivializes the writing process

This comes from “serious” writers and authors who have toiled and tormented over their work for decades and expects the same from you even when you first start out.

Their argument rests on the fact that they have long since forgotten how they started out as a writer. Sitting in their room at 14 and scratching away at their composition notebook. They didn’t toil and bleed then. It grew into a craft. NaNo says it’s time to up your game from the short scribblings and “plans” to write that novel.

Sure, some people write during NaNo and don’t write the rest of the year. Those people will never publish and probably have zero interest in publishing. They’re just having a little fun living in a world they created. The rest of us treat it and the craft with the utmost respect.

Argument #3: Writing a novel is a year-round process

So true. Nobody said that come December 1st you have a finished novel that is then ready for publication.

WriMo is for getting the words down on paper. It’s a first draft. It’s getting you over the biggest hurdles: the blank page and the Internal Editor. It lets you unabashedly try new things, new ideas, new plot points, that you wouldn’t allow yourself to consider otherwise. Heck, it pushes you to work out all the details so you can then go back (AFTER NOVEMBER OF COURSE) and edit and perfect the word choice and grammar.

There are a small percentage that write in November and then try to publish in December, but that’s not the majority and those people are off anyway. Then again, 1% of 400,000 + people is still WAY more than any agent or publisher wants to see in December.

Argument 4: Word count isn’t everything

This might be true. And in WriMo, we only care about word count. But the serious WriMos still consider the words in that count counts for something. Most don’t just drop gobbledygook.

But again, remember, NaNo is just as much about building discipline and building muscle (both imagination muscles and typing/writing muscles) as it about word count. It’s just that word count is a quantifiable goal. Just like Book In A Week which uses page numbers as the goal.

Conclusion

A lot of writers, myself included, need goals and deadlines. NaNo provides both and does so in a fun and entertaining way.

For me, I use NaNoWriMo to write the first draft of my new novel. I spend the rest of the year editing, writing short stories, rewriting, and submitting older novels and short stories. I need the kick in the pants to get past the dreaded Blank Page. And writing a full novel from nothing is daunting. November gets me over that hump in a way that’s fun for me. This is true of many many other WriMos.

There’s nothing damaging about WriMo and nothing bad about it. But like anything fun, misused it because a problem. If you ONLY write anything in November, you lose. If you submit your 1st draft of ANYTHING to any agent or publisher, you’re bonkers!

 

 

Writing Badly, Well: Repeating yourself repeatedly

The Rule: Don’t repeat yourself and delete repetition when you find it.

I’m going to break my own rule here and say that, in many cases, this might actually be the case.

An infamous inside joke amongst my writer friends and I is that you should watch out of “rocky rocks.” Calling rocks rocky is redundant, and repetitive.

Also, making constant mention of specific information can leave the reader feeling bored. Give the reader more credit.

But that’s where my willingness to buy this rule ends. For three reasons, I think repetition can be helpful.

1. To instill a very specific sensation or emotion in the reader through repetition. One of my favorite examples is 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Without giving away too much of the plot, there’s constant mention of moons, two moons, one moon, loneliness, and a rather repetitive life style for many of the characters.

This leaves a sense of belonging between the reader and the character. It also creates a sense of complete isolation from the world (like the characters are experiencing). And the moons? Well, to this day, my wife and I can’t look up into the sky, see one moon, and not wonder where the other moon went.

2. To instill urgency and passage of time in a heart pounding scene. Here I’d like to bring up The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. Todd, the main character, is constantly repeating himself. He repeats himself a lot when things are moving very quickly by saying something like (and not a real quote), “I ran. I ran and ran until there was nothing left in me.”

This does a couple things. It makes the reader feel running while propelling the young reader forward and still letting you know there’s a significant passage of time just then even though it’s not explicit.

3. Repeated sentences drive home a point. If you come to a segment of your story where you’re trying to make a point, it could be a great time to use the Rule of 3s. The best example of this Rule of 3s is in Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a Dream” speech. “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia. Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee. Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.”

So, be repetitive, repetitively. Just make sure you’re doing it for a reason. Because, if you’re not, like all the rules in Writing Badly, Well, you’ll just be another amateur.

Writing Badly, Well: Part 1 “To Be” verbs

If you write or are new to writing and are still waiting for your muse to come along or time to be on your side, then you’ve heard the adage “Delete passive voice” and “Use active verbs.” I’m here to tell you that, unless you’re brand new to writing, it’s time to step up your game and stop living by these rules. If you ARE new to writing, stop reading this, stick to the rules you’re told because you’re not ready for this.

First up, not all ‘to be’ verbs are passive voice. And not all passive voice is bad.

I linked these two rules “Delete passive voice” and “Use active verbs” because they tend to run in tandem. But they ARE different.

As for using passive voice, one need only look to Catcher in the Rye for your example of how to use it, master it, and when to use it appropriately. Passive voice is good if you want the actor of the action to be ambiguous. Or if you want to instill a sense of lack of action or even instill in the reader a sense of despair.

My favorite case of using passive voice is ANY time the action and the acted UPON matter more than the actor doing the action on the acted upon. Make sense?

Example: “Mistakes were made.” or “The door was left open.”

Who’s the actor? In the first case, it’s unclear, probably for a reason. That reason could be political (I don’t want to step on toes even though I know who made the mistakes). In the second case, “The door was left open” is left without an actor probably because we don’t know! But the most important thing is that the door was left open. In horror, you want to keep the fear alive, so you delete the actor. In suspense, you delete the actor for…well…suspense.

Passive voice isn’t bad. And if you use it correctly, you can add an element to your writing that breathes life into the prose and the reader’s experience.

Second, all ‘to be’ verbs are inactive.

This is true. But not all inactive verbs are bad.

Changing every ‘to be’ verb to an active verb is painful to read. It tires the reader. Inactive verbs provide a moment of calm when there’s no reason to engage the reader or get the heart racing. Changing “He was tall.” to “He towered over things.” is stupid. Unless there’s a good reason to tell us that he’s towering over someone in particular, all that’s important is that he’s tall. That’s it. Changing “She was American.” to “She spoke with American gusto.” is all well and good, but if that’s not important to the story beyond she’s an American, then why????

You want to keep the reader reading, not tire them with every sentence being the most important sentence on the page. Some sentences are just informative. Those sentences need inactive verbs. It gets you to the point and makes active verbs jump more when they do come up.

This push for active verbs is the same thing that’s wrong with modern horror movies. You’re constantly on edge and fake scares are thrown at you so often that by the time you get to the horror you’re so damn tired that you don’t even care anymore.

 

 

Letters of Rejection and Acceptance

The hard truth about publishing of late is that the industry is overwhelmed with millions of “writers” running around handing out half written and barely edited nonsense now that one can write as easily as Tweet. That leads to agents and publications having to roll their crossed eyes at the billions of emails queries they get every day.

End result: Writers working their butts off to get into the biz have to send to hundreds, literally hundreds, of agents and publications in order to find that one door that’s open just a smidgen. With those

hundreds of emails, cold calls, and God forbid snail mail letters comes the one thing every

one hates more than anything: REJECTION.

rejected
Rejected

You probably don’t need to be told t

hat writers are a lonely and solitary bunch. We lurk in the alleys and dark corners of bars. Every speck of engagement with the outside world and we cringe. We’re also emotional. Rejection hurts. And since it’s the ONLY feedback you get outside your group of family and friends who sigh when you hand them another “masterpiece” for their muted approval, it exacerbates the pain of that “Leave me ALONE” rejection.

But every gray overcast smog cloud has a touch of silver iodide. In this case, the fabled Acceptance letter.

As mythical as the jackalope and the chupacabra, the acceptance letter hides behind bushes and cares not for your health or well-being or even your financial situation. It pounces when you least expect it. They ALMOST make up for the torture associated with years of rejection and soul-searching at the bottom of countless bottles of alcohol.

Christmas In Review

When I was growing up, my father took Christmas very seriously. By that I mean that he always reverted to childhood as the holiday approached. He made every effort to ensure that his two boys believed in Santa Claus for as long as possible.

We always left a cold beer and an apple out for Santa. Not cookies and milk. As the story was told to us, Santa always got cookies. By the time he got to our house, he was tired and needed a cold brewski to keep him going. The apple was just a nice touch. A little something different for him.

One year, we bought reindeer food. Looking back, it was little more than a $10 bag of hay and gold glitter. But what’s $10 when it comes to a child’s innocence? We left that reindeer food out, along with the typical apple and bottle of Budweiser. The next morning, low and behold, all was gone.

The kicker? Out in the front yard, in the snow, was a pile of poo…with reindeer food sprinkled on top. Who doesn’t believe when this happens???? I was TEN!

Another year, we lived in an apartment, so it wasn’t hard to look around for presents that friends told us were somewhere in the house. There were no presents in any closet or our basement. The next morning we both had our own Radio Flyer wagons.

Where did they come from? The logic of a child had us ask. We had already told my dad of what our friends were saying at school. Santa isn’t real. We just can’t prove it. He asked, “How’d those wagons get here then? Where’d we hide them? Don’t believe? Just look outside! We’d have to bring them from outside. Wouldn’t we? Where’s our tracks?” We spent the last week pulling the apartment apart. There were no wagons until after we fell asleep on the 24th. Outside, there was 10 inches of fresh snow. No footprints and no wagon wheel tracks anywhere. MAGIC!

As early as I remember, and moving all the way into adulthood, my father sneaked into our bedroom at about 2:30AM on Christmas morning. He’d wake us up and say that Santa came. As we jumped and screamed, he’d shush us and tell us that he was going to go back to bed. Give him 10 minutes and then come in and wake them both up. He NEVER slept on Christmas Eve.

Later, much later, in life, I learned that our dad bought the neighbor’s dog poo the day before to sprinkle the glittered hay onto. The wagons? They were across the street, still in boxes, at my grandparents house. My dad and grandpa built them that night, carried them to our apartment, walked back to my grandparents, and swept over his tracks with a broom.

My parents always used different wrapping paper from neighbors and always signed Santa’s name with their left hands so their handwriting was different.

This year. I lost both my dad and my grandpa (among others).

As I realize my wife and I will sit here by ourselves this Christmas, with no other family around, I struggle to find the Christmas Spirit. We went to the mall this weekend to use a Groupon my wife had. The painted Beautiful People and fistfuls of gargantuan bags of fresh purchases in everyone’s hands made me feel dirty. Then I realize…

I’m grateful that my understanding of Christmas is what it is: a beautiful time of magic and wonder. A time of making dreams come true, forgetting the world around you for a moment. A helping hand, not a sticky hand full of candy and wrapping paper. Snow and freshness. A time to reflect on the good, forget the bad.

This Christmas, I remember the men that made me love Christmas.

Book Release Blog Tour Begins Today for "Disturbed Connections" by Kia Zi Shiru!

Kia Zi Shiru is rocking a new novel. Today, I’m proud to announce the kick-off of her book blog tour for her newest Gay Paranormal Romance: Disturbed Connections: Otherkin Spirits (Book II).

Disturbed Connections: Otherkin Spirits – Book Two

As always, you can check out and purchase her new books here:

Amazon (US)
Amazon (UK)
Amazon (Canada)

Having read several of her previous works, I can only say, if gay paranormal romance is your thing (and perhaps even if it’s not), you’re going to enjoy this series. As one might assume from its title, Disturbed Connections is part two of the Otherkin series. You can find both books and others by Shiru via the links above or those at the bottom of this post.

Blurb of Disturbed Connections:

A werewolf and a vampire, forbidden love. What could go wrong?
CHRIS, a werewolf on the run from his abusive clan, hides in a vampire house. ALEC, a
vampire who has comfortably lived in the house for years, has no intentions to ever leave it.
Their connection is obvious from the first time they meet. But the house rules are strict,
werewolves and vampires can not date. Unable to fight their attraction and unwilling to leave,
they instead choose to hide their love.
Then Chris’ old clan finds him and takes him back. Will Alec ever see Chris again?

An excerpt: found here.

A bit about the author:

Author Kia Zi Shiru

Kia Zi Shiru is a Dutch girl who did her bachelor studying English and Creative Writing in the UK but has now returned to the Netherlands to do her masters. Amongst her interests she finds writing, reading, doing research and learning different languages (including but not limited to: English, Dutch, French, German, HTML, Java, PHP and Assembly). Her writing and reading habits include books with Young Adults, gay themes, strong female or minority characters and fantasy elements (more often than not all at the same time).
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As always, best of luck to Shiru! She’s a great author, an imaginative storyteller, and a fierce believer in the idea that a good book needs to stab you in the heart; sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a tough way.

Other places to find Disturbed Connections:
All Romance eBooks
Smashwords
Kobo

Velocities by Stephen Dobyns

Usually, if you see a book on my blog shelf, it’s because I’ve read it cover to cover and I’m drawling on about it changing my life in some way, good, bad, or indifference. Not today.
Today, I introduce to you, my first ever, book of poetry. That’s right. The man who swore off poetry in my first class on the subject now owns his own copy of purple prose by a well-respected American poet, Stephen Dobyns. 
Velocities by Stephen Dobyns

What’s best is that I have my More Ink friends and Robin Kalinich in particular to thank for it.

I’ve only read a few so far, but I’m interested to read further. Much like my zombie book (that is still seeking a literary agent, if anyone is reading), I started writing it before I’ve ever read it. I can’t image that would assist me positively to create in this manner. But it is what it is.

Thanks Robin!