Interview with Birds Piled Loosely Press

Happy summer, everyone!

It’s July, which means that my university diploma is coming in the mail and I am spending quite a bit of time staring at the ceiling wondering “Now what?”

Writing-wise I have been on a bit of a hiatus, but earlier this summer I did an interview with BPL (the press who published my chapbook). I have included a quote below and you can read the full interview here. An excerpt also appeared in Issue 11 of their magazine (which is gorgeous and you should read it).

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Cover image for Issue 11 of The Birds We Piled Loosely

 

BPL: What kind of costumes do you wear?

M: I’m still searching for the perfect costume. By that, I mean I’m still trying to figure out who I am. I just received my undergraduate degree, which is such a big step, but also terrifying. I’m at a point where I’ve learned so much about myself, yet I’m also just getting started in life. I feel like I’ve tried on so many different costumes already: the traveler, the free spirit, the scholar, the rebel, the writer. Each one of those costumes has taught me something. Now it’s all about taking the best from each costume and creating something really spectacular.

~ M

Interview: Finding Her Readers

Check out this interview I did with the UNLV News Center! I talk about rejection, Margaret Atwood, and writing (three of my favorite things! well, maybe not rejection).

For the full interview, click here.

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Picture Credit: (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

 

Manuela Bowles (also known by pen name Manuela Williams) has managed to accomplish in a few short years what many writers hope to achieve over the course of a lifetime—and all before she’ll receive her undergraduate degree in English this week. In addition to the 11 individual poems and stories various literary journals have scooped up for publication, independent press Birds Piled Loosely recently published a short collection (or chapbook) of Bowles’ poetry, Ghost in Girl Costume — placing her work alongside that of long-established poets with full-length collections under their belts. Bowles also serves as a guest reader for literary journal Carve Magazine, reviewing and recommending the work of her peers for publication.

Bowles is also a skilled academic writer and researcher. She won a 2015 UNLV University Libraries Lance and Elena Calvert Undergraduate Research Award as a junior for her paper “Margaret Atwood and the Implications of the Word ‘Love,’” in which she explored the portrayal of ideal romantic love in Western literature and Atwood’s rejection of that ideal in the author’s work.

— Alexandra Karosas

From Slush Pile to Editor’s Desk: Build Urgency From the Beginning

While you can’t predict exactly what an editor will or will not like, there are a couple things you can do to ensure that your story has a fighting chance when you submit it to a literary magazine (and won’t cause anyone to scream and/or tear their hair out in frustration).

This is PART 2 of a multi-post series. For PART 1, click here.

Build Urgency From The Beginning

Lack of urgency is the number one reason why I turn down stories. The prose might be beautiful, but I can’t be sold on that alone. Your story needs to open with a bang and keep me hooked from sentence one.

If your story starts out with two characters discussing the weather, then I probably won’t read on (unless they’re talking about sharknados). Another pet peeve of mine: when a story starts off with a description of scenery. While this can sometimes work, it often doesn’t and leaves me yawning after the first couple of sentences. As a rule, start with some action, or an interesting scenario.

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No bomb required. Unless your story is actually about a bomb. Then I would highly suggest that you write about a bomb within the first two sentences. Image Credit: freepik.com

Two very important things you should cover within the first 1-2 pages:

  • Who is the main character, what do they want, and why should I care about them?
  • What are the stakes? In other words, what does the main character have to lose if they don’t get what they want?

If I don’t care about your character, or if I can’t get a sense of what’s at stake from the beginning, then I will not keep reading.

Once you build urgency, you have to maintain it throughout your entire story. How can you do this? Here are a couple ideas:

  • Keep raising the stakes. How much can your main character stand to lose?
  • Prevent your character from getting what they want.

For a more complete list, check out this post on the Terrible Minds blog. Chuck Wendig really knows what he’s talking about with this one.

I recently read an excellent story from Family of Fallen Leaves called “Thirteen Harbors.” It begins like this:

“I took a new wife for my husband. Maybe the strangest thing ever to happen at Yen Ha village, I chose my good friend to be the bride, a woman who had passed the age for marriage but for a long time had desired a child and wanted a husband.” — Suong Nguyet Minh, “Thirteen Harbors”

Talk about a bang, right? And from there, the story doesn’t let up in its urgency as main character Sao suffers from devastating miscarriage after miscarriage.

If you have the opportunity, I highly suggest you read the rest of it. Not only is “Thirteen Harbors” a haunting story about the effects of Agent Orange, but it is also expertly crafted, which is really beneficial for us writers.

So, how do you build urgency in your own work? Have you read any particularly well done short stories lately?

— Manuela Williams

 

Finding Your Work A Home: Helpful Literary Websites

It’s Spring Break! That means I have more time to focus on my creative writing and put together a list of literary magazines I might want to send my work to.

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In addition to working on creative stuff, I will also be taking a road trip during my vacation.

Back in my earlier blogging days (like last year), I wrote a post talking about different websites writers can use when they are ready to start submitting their work. That particular post has long since vanished, however, I have recreated it here and included some new information.

Since there are hundreds of literary magazines out in the world, the process of finding a good home for your work can be tedious. Luckily, there are several websites that can make the search a lot easier.

It is important to note, while the websites listed below are extremely helpful, they should not be used in lieu of doing your own research.

What do I mean when I say “research?” As the writer, you are responsible for checking out a literary magazine’s website on your own. Websites can house a lot of information that might not be present in a database listing. This can include accurate submission deadlines and format specifications.

Another important thing you can learn from scouting out a magazine’s website is the type of work the editor/s tend to publish. If you notice that a magazine only publishes literary fiction, then don’t send them your mystery story. If a magazine states that they only publish flash fiction then, please, don’t send them a twenty page document.

List of Websites

Duotrope. A paid subscription. $5 a month grants you access to lots of advanced search functions. For example, there’s a search option that allows you to search only for lit mags that publish “feminist” fiction, or “creative non-fiction.” There’s also a function that allows you to search for lit mags that are print-only, or online-only. Duotrope tends to be a lot more accurate than some free options. A lot of the time, on other sites like “The Review Review,” a posting will say that a lit mag is accepting submissions, however, when you go to the website, you learn that submissions are actually closed for the year.

New Pages. This is one of my favorite free resources to use when searching for lit mags to submit to. There is a “Classified” section on the website that provides an extensive list of magazines that are currently accepting submissions. Although it can be time-consuming to find a magazine that is accepting the type of work you are submitting, it is definitely worth the time and effort, especially if you check back on a daily basis

Poets and Writers Database of Literary Magazines. A very large database which is also free to use. It lists hundreds of literary magazines for your browsing pleasure. This website is particularly useful if you want to get a feel for the types of magazines on the market. The search function is not as advanced as other sites.

Entropy Magazine’s “Where to Submit.” Entropy is a literary magazine that also publishes a bi-monthly “Where To Submit” blog post. The post provides an extensive list of presses, calls for chapbooks, journals, anthologies, as well as residencies, fellowships, conferences, and other writing opportunities. The best part of this list is its accuracy. For the most part, every listing is accepting submissions during the time period specified by the blog post. Additionally, the post specifies any reading fees involved with submitting to any given press, magazine, and/or contest.

What about you guys? Do have a specific website you like to use when searching for literary magazines? Let me know in the comments.

Happy Spring!

— Manuela Williams

 

Evolution of a Chapbook

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Image Credit: Birds Piled Loosely Press

Since I first started seriously writing poetry (and by seriously, I mean that I stopped rhyming “rain” with “pain” every other line), I wanted to publish a chapbook.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a chapbook is a shorter version of a full length book (for example, my chapbook is only 32 pages, compared to 100+ pages). Chapbooks can be cheaper than full length books and, according to the Writer’s Digest article I linked to above, inexpensive for publishers to produce (as most are sewn or stapled together rather than hard bound).

Before I began the submission process, I had hundreds of poems stashed away on my computer. Why didn’t I just throw all those together into a manuscript, send it to a press, and call it a day? Simply put, when putting together a chapbook manuscript, story still matters. How are the poems working together as a whole? Do they form some kind of story? Speak to a specific theme? All of these questions matter when putting together a good manuscript.

When I was confident that I had a strong manuscript, I turned to one of my favorite resources: Entropy Magazine’s “Where to Submit” bimonthly blog post. I absolutely love this website and it has helped me find small presses and journals for my poetry.

It was through Entropy Magazine that I found the 2017 Hard to Swallow Chapbook Contest from Birds Piled Loosely Press (BPL). And the rest, as they say, was history. My chapbook manuscript, Ghost in Girl Costume, was one of three winners and is now available for purchase.

I found working with BPL to be very rewarding. The editors were responsive and wanted me to be 100% happy with the final product. They worked closely with me on cover and interior design and were patient with all my “newbie” questions (hey, this is my first chapbook, cut me some slack).

One of the most rewarding aspects of the process was the “final workshop” of my manuscript. Through Google Hangouts, I met with BPL’s editors, who went through my manuscript page-by-page and suggested ways in which the manuscript could be further improved. That being said, they never forced me into any changes (creative freedom, woohoo!).

Finally, as I am a firm believer in giving back, I decided to donate any royalties I make through this chapbook to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a cause that I am extremely passionate about.

This certainly isn’t the end for me, though, and I hope to have some new material out in the world soon. Keep an eye out!

— Manuela Williams