Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

What do you get out of writer’s magazines? (09/15/07)



Featured writer: David S. Johnson



Contributors this month:
Betty Winslow
Bonnie Bruinsslot
Christine Falcone
David S. Johnson
Don Edgers
Lily Owyang
Marilyn Petty
Paula Matzinger
Rodney L. Merrill
Susan Bono
Thursday R. Bram


Making Scenes

by David S. Johnson

Create a scene.

I'm sure I read that somewhere in a writing magazine. Right now I'm distracted by a green anole lizard surfing the breeze on a banana tree leaf. There's another anole on the garden stones. He pumps his head up and down showing off the bright red dewlap under his chin; a territorial display by a male. I move my newspaper and he seems satisfied as he turns to look for food or other intruders. The leaf lizard is still hanging on, even as the paddle-sized, flimsy leaf folds in on itself. But a strong breeze proves too much and the leaf lizard is on the ground. He runs under a bush.

For me, writing magazines offer three basic article types. The first is the article written to remind us of basic common sense such as don't put commas in the middle of words and don't send essays to America: The National Catholic Weekly that employ phrases such as "wild spider monkey sex" or "tangerine jello-lubricated Slip ‘n Slides." I don't mind these common sense articles because even though I know better, I do things everyday that are against my better judgment. For instance, I should have known better than to use an entire fifth of 180-proof vodka as lighter fluid. But then again I would have never learned the aesthetic value of symmetrical arm hair, so I reckon some things have to be learned on my own.

The second type of articles is arcane and for the erudite English Literature major. "9 easy hyperbolic chiasmi to improve your stale sestina!" Are those even words? These articles aren't for me because I'm the guy who laughs out loud when he scribbles out the ‘i' in the word ‘assistance' on signs. I don't write for English Lit majors (or as one). Those guys can write about me when I'm dead and explain what I meant in my work (because half the time I'm not even sure myself).

The third type makes extraordinary claims with little information. To me, some read like this: "Publish in 3 seconds!! If you had read this article already, you'd be published by now. The end." The pipe dreams of pipe dreams attack our souls that are dripping with the sweat of desperation to publish. Even in the nobility of literature, there are knaves.

For me, writing magazines have, at times, been my banana leaf in the winds of rejection. Their advice and tips sometimes give me a false sense of purchase. I've tried so many different ways to write that most of the time I was just doing my best to hang on. For now, I think I'll stick to the territory I know and like the ground lizard, challenge encroaching mammals.

What I've learned foremost from writing magazines is that instead of reading about how to write/publish, I need to be writing. But I can't right now because it's still unbearably hot here in southern Louisiana and if I sit here too long I'll have to take my pants off and the sun just might weld my flesh to the chair. Talk about creating a scene.


David has his pants on in Baton Rouge, but does enjoy creating a good scene.
Find out what kind of scenes the left side of David’s brain is creating:David's Website


What do you get out of writers' magazines?

  by Betty Winslow

You mean, besides stacks of old magazines that I can't bring myself to throw away without major angst? For many years I knew no other writers, could not afford conferences and classes, and was desperate for ideas, markets, and knowledge.

That's where writer's magazines came in. From Writer's Digest, The Writer, and The Christian Communicator, I've gotten inspiration, education, encouragement, things to think about, heights to stretch for, entertainment, new markets, ideas for future articles, peers to connect with... well, you get the idea.

Yeah, I belong to several online and in-the-flesh writer's groups now.
I'm even an officer in one. But writers' magazines still fill certain gaps in my life, keeping me compnay and pushing me to succeed in the middle of the night when I can't sleep or on a long car trip. I've never regretted a cent I've spent on them.


Betty Winslow, prospecting for gold in the stacks of magazines that fill the corner of her Bowling Green, Ohio, office

Bonnie Bruinsslot



Asked the question: What do you get out of writers' magazines?

I wonder; yet I read every page. It may be the pleasure of knowing that I'm not the only one consuming the fruit of language. Sometimes I masticate the magazine like gummy bears and other times down it like a milkshake.

There may be a place in the magazine where I could share my own sandwich. Sometimes I search for that spot, where references toward the end of the magazine display spaces to send and contribute - especially if my solitude needs company.

Bonnie Bruinsslot lives in Sonoma County, CA. She has published stories in Women’s Voices and the Christian Science Monitor. Earlier, she published travel stories in the Bodega Bay Navigator.


What Do You Get Out Of Writers’ Magazines?

  by Christine Falcone

What do I get out of writers' magazines? The first thing that springs to mind are those pesky little paper subscription cards that comes falling out of my writers' magazines. (I save those, use them as bookmarks.) But really, what I get out of writers' magazines are tips and tools of the trade, lists of contests and events, interesting articles and interviews like the one I just read by Jordan Rosenfeld in the current issue of Writer's Digest. They keep me connected, writers' magazines, keep my finger on the pulse of what's happening. I can read about how to make my characters jump off the page, or how to complete a novel. Some of what I read is instructional, some of it relevant to what I'm doing. But sometimes I wonder: hasn't this article been written before? How many magazine pieces do we need on completing a first draft or how to write snappy dialogue? Sometimes I think writers' magazines are just regurgitation. Other times, I'm truly grateful for them.


Christine Falcone is using her bookmarks in Novato, CA.

Making Scenes

  by David S. Johnson

Create a scene.

I'm sure I read that somewhere in a writing magazine. Right now I'm distracted by a green anole lizard surfing the breeze on a banana tree leaf. There's another anole on the garden stones. He pumps his head up and down showing off the bright red dewlap under his chin; a territorial display by a male. I move my newspaper and he seems satisfied as he turns to look for food or other intruders. The leaf lizard is still hanging on, even as the paddle-sized, flimsy leaf folds in on itself. But a strong breeze proves too much and the leaf lizard is on the ground. He runs under a bush.

For me, writing magazines offer three basic article types. The first is the article written to remind us of basic common sense such as don't put commas in the middle of words and don't send essays to America: The National Catholic Weekly that employ phrases such as "wild spider monkey sex" or "tangerine jello-lubricated Slip ‘n Slides." I don't mind these common sense articles because even though I know better, I do things everyday that are against my better judgment. For instance, I should have known better than to use an entire fifth of 180-proof vodka as lighter fluid. But then again I would have never learned the aesthetic value of symmetrical arm hair, so I reckon some things have to be learned on my own.

The second type of articles is arcane and for the erudite English Literature major. "9 easy hyperbolic chiasmi to improve your stale sestina!" Are those even words? These articles aren't for me because I'm the guy who laughs out loud when he scribbles out the ‘i' in the word ‘assistance' on signs. I don't write for English Lit majors (or as one). Those guys can write about me when I'm dead and explain what I meant in my work (because half the time I'm not even sure myself).

The third type makes extraordinary claims with little information. To me, some read like this: "Publish in 3 seconds!! If you had read this article already, you'd be published by now. The end." The pipe dreams of pipe dreams attack our souls that are dripping with the sweat of desperation to publish. Even in the nobility of literature, there are knaves.

For me, writing magazines have, at times, been my banana leaf in the winds of rejection. Their advice and tips sometimes give me a false sense of purchase. I've tried so many different ways to write that most of the time I was just doing my best to hang on. For now, I think I'll stick to the territory I know and like the ground lizard, challenge encroaching mammals.

What I've learned foremost from writing magazines is that instead of reading about how to write/publish, I need to be writing. But I can't right now because it's still unbearably hot here in southern Louisiana and if I sit here too long I'll have to take my pants off and the sun just might weld my flesh to the chair. Talk about creating a scene.


David has his pants on in Baton Rouge, but does enjoy creating a good scene.
Find out what kind of scenes the left side of David’s brain is creating:David's Website


What do I get out of writer’s magazines?

  by Don Edgers

Besides usable information, inspiration and entertainment, I use them to burn thousands of calories. I bring one of my writer's magazines to my health club to occupy my time on the treadmill, recumbent bike and stair-stepper. I burn about 900 calories while on the treadmill and bike, plus another 100 on the stair-stepper. That works out to about eight to ten pages in Writer's Digest or The Writer or five or six pages in The Writer's Chronicle. That comes to over 10,000 calories I get out of each writer's magazine. It sure beats trying to read the closed captions on the TV monitors on the wall high above the machines and I don't get a stiff neck.


Don Edgers is working on Fox Island, a pictorial history book for Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America. He writes in Port Orchard, Washington. His Web site is www.anislandintime.com



What do you get out of writer’s magazines?

  by Lily Owyang

My response to the question is a combination of cynicism, and give-me-a-break. The thought of reading about another theory or how-to article brings me back to the biases shaped by a lifetime spent as a professional musician and in academia. I recoil from exploiting the dynamics of competition and resist from engaging in the familiar cycle of criticism for its own sake. Still, I leaf through writer's magazines and even subscribe to a few. I look for material that surprises, and arouses deeper curiosity. Whether it's an article by or about a writer, reading about the mistakes made, lessons learned or an original piece of writing itself, I cling to nuggets of insight and discovery to carry me over to wonder and delight.


Lily Owyang continues to search for wonder and delight as she reads and writes in northern California.


What do you get out of writers' magazines?

  by Marilyn Petty

I used to be a writer's magazine junky. I haunted bookstore kiosks waiting to buy hot-off-the press issues. I read them cover to cover, underlined and dog-eared pages, scribbling margin notes, labored over exercise prompts. I, too, could create what authors did —incomparable prose with sparkling descriptions and zippy dialogue, or prosody of heart-wrenching lyricism or philosophic musings of impenetrable wisdom. I could win contests, graduate with an MFA from a prestigious university, get published, be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for literature. Success lay between the pages of each month's Writer's Digest or Poets & Writers.

I kept every issue for reference and inspiration. Put them in a cupboard and then forgot the advice, the wise counsel, the deadline dates for submissions and contests. My pile of old magazines grew and grew. It became unwieldy, hard to store, so I tossed them in the recycle bin after cutting out articles that I liked. Those went in a "Writers and Writing" file where they now molder away, unreferenced except for an occasional pleasant perusal.

Sometimes I buy a new magazine issue to read when I get around to it. Just to remind me that what I finally got from writer's magazines, and from books about writing, workshops, conference, is the irrefutable message that to be a writer you must write. Every day. Just do it. Practice and practice and practice. Keep writing, they say because if we can do it, so can you. Keep writing because, as poet Donald Hall says, "...what else is there to do."


Marilyn Petty is trying to find nothing else to do in Santa Rosa, CA.

What Do You Get Out of Writer’s Magazines?

  by Paula Matzinger

Inspiration. No. Depression. Glancing at glossy capturings of successful writers, educated writers, degreed, ensconced-in-academia writers, young and brilliant, middle and old professionals-of-a-lifetime writers - I get depressed. I read some articles, browse the rest, snap the covers shut, throw them into the huge, haphazard stack under my desk of un-tattered- like-they've-never-been-thumbed-through writer's magazines. Then I pretend I'm not depressed.

My pile. Periodicals about published writers, writing about other published writers or their own writing--hypothesizing, intellectualizing--and always the inescapable "How Tos." Sometimes their own prose is even in the magazines. But mostly, I think it's about iconocizing writers in volumes of words, slick and perfectly penned pages and pages -- paid for by the encasement of advertisements. Masses of famous schools where I, too, can become famous-- for the cost of tuition. Countless contests and places to publish where these writers won and were published. Where I can win and be published-- for the cost of submission. Where I could spend more money becoming a writer than I could ever earn as a writer.

I throw these mostly unread, un-dog-eared writer's journals under my desk. Fortune in a pile. My dog uses them for pillows. I try to forget and ignore them and my feelings regarding them. Not them. Really, me. I don't want to consider whether I will ever be in those writer's magazines, see my face imprinted on a page. Maybe, I assume I will never be good, educated or connected enough. Maybe, I should read the "How Tos." Submit. Get an MFA. I don't want to think about it.

I continue, every day, to turn on my computer on the desk above my slippery mountain, write my small poems and essays. What for? Maybe it doesn't really matter. The shiny writer's magazines under my desk collect a layer of dog hair. I write.


Paula Matzinger: Part-time poet, essayist, painter, singer, musician, youth leader, backpacker. Used-to-be graphic artist, landscape architect. Full-time wife, mother-of-teenagers, friend, cat and dog owner. Oh, and she’s hooked on crosswords. The state of her house reflects her inability to limit her life-choices.


What do you get out of writer’s magazines?

  by Rodney L. Merrill

Very little, actually. Every once in awhile I forget that and subscribe to one and I always come to the conclusion that they are a waste of time and money. I don't mean literary journals. I get a lot out of reading good writing both as a reader and a writer. I read every issue of Tiny Lights, for example. But I find the advice-oriented magazines like Writer's Digest serve up the same old reheated gruel year after year. I think this may be because they have a very high turnover in readership that doesn't notice the repetition.


Rodney Merrill lives with Kate, his wife of 23 years, and their two dogs and three goats in Astoria, Oregon. He is a Master Hypnotist, Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Reiki Master and professional writer. He is working on a Ph.D. in Social and Behavioral Science. The tentative title for his dissertation is Personifying the World: A Social Study of Personal Writing Practice. His research concerns whether they are useful ways to consider the practice of personal writing as a social rather than a strictly individual activity.

What You See is What You Get

  by Susan Bono

I confess I don't get much out of writers' magazines because I don't read them very often. Right now I'm going through a phase where I'm not reading much of anything, so I'm not surprised that writers' how-to publications have fallen off my shortening list.

My newfound indifference to reading disturbs me. Outwardly, I blame my increasingly tired eyes. Inwardly, I suspect some mid-life rebellion. There's a short-sighted, tantruming oldster in me flopping around on the kitchen floor and shouting, "But I don't want to keep learning! You can't make me!"

This inner oldster affects how I feel about writing. I really hate to admit it, but after forty or more years of trying, I still haven't learned what I need to know to do it right. I continue to have problems incorporating dialog, creating effective scenes, and, lord help me, marketing myself. Writers' magazines have all this information and more. I resist them, doggedly insisting I don't need what they have to offer. I can reinvent the wheel as many times as I want, thank you.

But I also have to concede that on those rare occasions when I do get my nose out of the air and into a writers' mag or onto a helpful website, I learn all kinds of things. And the process is never as painful as I feared. I just happened to read an interview in the Writer with Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City, that had me thinking about book proposals in a new way. Hmmmm. Now all I have to do is write a book. I bet there's a writers' magazine to help me with that.


Susan Bono is still trying not to learn too much in Petaluma, CA.

What do you get out of writers’ magazines?

  by Thursday R. Bram

I have to admit, I don't even look at print copies of writers' magazines. I'm all about the e-mail newsletters, reading articles on websites, and being able to reference something at 3 a.m. without having to steal the library copy. Subscriptions tend to be much cheaper online, as well.

But that's more of a "how" I read writers' magazines, not "why." There are layers to my answer - there's the obvious need for resources, whether I'm looking for new markets or I need help with characterization. But the underlying theme always seems to circle back to my need for validation - I need to be able to say, "See, other people can do this for a living, and so can I." It encourages me, and I get up off my rear and get moving on my next project.


Thursday Bram is a freelance writer who, among other projects, blogs about the business side of writing.
Check out www.ThursdayBram.com



Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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