Death of a Poet

Monday, October 26, 2015

Horror is not my genre. I don’t even read Stephen King novels. But several years ago I wrote a short story for a Halloween-themed Highland Writers’ Group meeting. I recently dug it out for a flash fiction contest and then decided not to enter. Rather than just file it again, I decided to use it here. And since it doesn’t come anywhere near the intensity of a Stephen King story, no warnings are necessary to keep children away.

Death of a Poet
Kathryn Page Camp

It was getting dark on the Pacific island of Tongatapu, and the poet lit a lamp before tucking his feet under him. He rested his notebook on his lap, wet the lead tip of his pencil in his mouth, and went back to his writing.

A bird in the hand gave me
The hair of the dog,
And a horse of a different color
Bled like a stuck pig.

Not bad, he thought. Back in the States, he always seemed to have writer’s block. But since he had moved here, the words just flowed. It must be the more laid-back atmosphere.

It was a bitter pill to swallow
As I watched the pot that never boils,
And she held my feet to the fire
As she read me the riot act.

I was at the end of my rope
Until the drop of a hat
Hit the nail on the head
And showed me the writing on the wall.

He lost track of time until he heard the smoosh of the rain on the thatched roof and the plunk as it hit the dirt floor in the corner where the roof needed fixing—someday. Grabbing his drink, he went outside and soaked in the salt smell of the sea and the warmth of the rain. The he lifted his head to watch the show in the sky.

Lightning flashed and touched the earth where the poet stood. His cry was drowned by thunder, and all that remained was a pile of ashes.

* * *

On Mount Olympus, two gods bowed their heads as the clock hit the final stroke of midnight down below.

“October 31 has ended all over the world for another year.” The younger god raised his head and shook his unshorn locks. “Thank you, Zeus, for granting my wish and giving me this one day when you use your thunderbolt to strike down the worst of those who dare to call themselves poets. I just wish you’d let me eliminate many more.” He shuddered as he thought of some of the pretenders still out there.

“Enough, Apollo,” the older god replied. “If you had your way, there would be none left.”

“That’s not true,” the other said. “There have been a few good poets over the years. Homer and Shakespeare and, uhm, ah . . . .” He sat down and started making his list for next year.

I wonder if you’re on it.

Sending Submissions the Old-Fashioned Way

Monday, October 19, 2015

I’m making my second round of submissions for Desert Jewels, and all five publishers want hard copies. One wants the full manuscript and the other four will take a query letter and three sample chapters, but even that requires spending money on paper and ink and postage. Fortunately, the expense is not a problem for me. But what about those starving artists for whom it is?

Once upon a time, postal mail was the only way to send a manuscript. The speed of delivery improved as gasoline-powered vehicles replaced horses, but submissions still cost the writer money for paper and postage.

Today we can send long documents through the ether without spending any additional money. Sure, we have to pay for the computer and the Internet connection, but we would be doing that anyway. And with the advances in security and virus protection, some publishers have realized that e-mail submissions are more convenient for them, as well. So why haven’t the rest reached the same conclusion?

If an editor accepts e-mail submissions and wants to read a manuscript on paper, then the time and expense of printing it off rests with the editor instead of the writer. Still, that may not happen very often. Most submissions are rejected after the editor reads the first few paragraphs (or less), and this initial sort could be done easily enough on a laptop or tablet or even a smart phone.

It also hasn’t been very long since a postage pre-paid envelope guaranteed that a rejected submission would be returned. In the days before computers and printers and personal photocopiers, publishers had empathy for writers who would otherwise have to make time-consuming replacement copies each time they submitted their work. Or maybe the publishers worried that they would lose out on the next best seller because the author didn’t have a copy left to send them. Either way, they found the time to stick the manuscript in a pre-addressed envelope and drop it in the mail. Now three out of the five publishers say they won’t return the submission under any circumstances.

Personally, I would rather print off a new manuscript for the next publisher. What if the returned copy is marked on or dog-eared or has coffee stains halfway through? (Coffee stains halfway through might tell the next editor that the first one liked it enough to read that far, but they also say that I’m not very professional.) I could page through the material, but I might still miss something. So even when a publisher is willing to return the manuscript, I tell it not to. But again, what about those writers for whom money is tight?

I can sympathize with the editors. Researching publishers takes time, and some writers think that free means they have nothing to lose. If the manuscript isn’t ready or the publisher isn’t a good fit, it will probably be rejected. But maybe the editor will think the story is so outstanding that he or she will publish it anyway. (So goes the thinking of these inexperienced writers.) Requiring hard copy submissions and refusing to return them is one way publishers can cut down on unsuitable submissions. But it isn’t the only way. An editor can easily delete any submission that is sent to multiple e-mail addresses or is clearly generic.

Sometimes the good old days had their advantages.

But this isn’t one of them.


The Pony Express poster is in the public domain because of its age.

Is That a Flaw I See?

Monday, October 12, 2015

I spent a nervous Thursday and Friday waiting for UPS to deliver copies of In God We Trust so that I could sell them Saturday and Sunday at book sales events connected to a writers’ conference. I didn’t relax until they arrived at mid-day on Friday.

After they arrived, I inspected them. It was the first time I had seen the book in hard copy, and it looks great. Then I took a closer look at the picture on the front, which I took in Wisconsin in 2010, and my heart sank.

Looking above the chimney on the right-hand side of the picture, I saw a thin line. I must have had a hair on the lens when I took the picture, and I hadn’t noticed it before. There was nothing I could do about it for these first thirty copies, but I decided that as soon as I had time I would remove it from the picture and redo the cover. And once I saw the blemish, I couldn’t unsee it.

At the mass book signing on Sunday, I sat next to a friend and fellow author, Michael Poore. He complimented me on the cover and the photo, so I pointed out the flaw.

Then he did what I should have done myself. He took an even closer look. Where I saw a hair on the lens, he saw a bare branch hanging from a tree. But I couldn’t give up on the idea that I had used a dirty lens, so I noticed and pointed out the dot you can see farther up on the right, just below where the tree branches cross the steeple. Mike said it looked like a single leaf hanging from another branch.

When I got home and enlarged the original on the screen, I discovered that Mike was 75% correct and I was 100% wrong. What I thought was a hair is indeed a branch. The dot is not a leaf but is something (probably a light fixture) attached to the steeple by a long metal rod. But neither of them are flaws in the picture, and neither are my fault.

It’s so easy to see what we think are flaws when they are just part of the scene. I may be convinced that I received a rejection letter because my story isn’t good enough. Or you may think you missed out on that job opportunity because you blew the interview. But maybe the story just wasn’t a good fit for that particular magazine and God has a better job in mind for you. Sometimes we just need to trust and move on.

But now I have a different dilemma. Should I try to brush the branch and the light fixture out of the photo so that others don’t see them as flaws and think I messed up? Or should I trust my readers to view the picture with Mike’s more discerning eyes?

What do you think?

Shameless Promotion

Monday, October 5, 2015

No, this is not a rant against shameless promotion. It is shameless promotion. The updated second edition of my first book, In God We Trust, was released by KP/PK Publishing on September 30, 2015, and this week's blog post promotes it.

Throughout American history, the First Amendment has been a lightning rod for the debate over religious freedom and its limitations within a free society. Intense legal battles have been fought over prayer in school, religious symbols on public property, and the right to speak out when religious beliefs conflict with popular opinion. These battles will continue as society struggles with the degree of tolerance to give organized religion.

Does the First Amendment create a wall of separation between church and state? How important was that concept to the men who created the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? Has the Supreme Court been true to the founders’ intent, or has it distorted the First Amendment religion clauses beyond recognition?

Written in plain English for laypeople, In God We Trust provides a neutral summary of the First Amendment’s historical background and the Supreme Court cases interpreting it. This knowledge arms readers with the tools they need to answer those questions for themselves.

You can find the link for the paperback version here.

The Kindle version will be available later this week.
Thanks for letting me engage in this shameless promotion.