Posts filed under Poetry

Frances McCue: Writer, Lecturer & Arts Instigator

 Photo courtesy of Mary Randlett

Photo courtesy of Mary Randlett

Name: Frances McCue

Age: 52

College & Majors/Minors: English Major

Current Location: Seattle, WA

Current Form of Employment: writing, teaching, instigating.

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I have three streams to my work river: I write poems and prose which I publish in books and in magazines or journals. I am an Arts Instigator who helps individuals and organizations start or sustain creative projects. And my third stream is as a Senior Lecturer and the Writer in Residence in the University Honors Program at the University of Washington.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

When I was in high school I took a summer job cutting trails and doing a tree sampling project for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. I lived in the woods and took showers at Falling Water, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural wonder. I got it through a family member. My first internship as a writer was actually as a “distribution manager.” I took literary magazines around San Francisco on my bike, delivering them to bookstores and coffee shops. I actually have never really had an actual job as a writer, but all of my teaching and administrative jobs have demanded that I write well.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I was the Founding Director of Richard Hugo House, a literary center in Seattle. A friend from college said, “Wow. You have a job running a place that brings in famous writers AND it has a bar? Sounds like a dream situation.” Truly.

“Look for new economic models for sustaining a life in literature and writing. In other words, skip applying for academic jobs and don’t bank on the novel becoming a best seller.”

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I hosted a lot of parties. I was interested in bringing people from all different parts of campus, with all sorts of interests, together. I still do that!

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Look for new economic models for sustaining a life in literature and writing. In other words, skip applying for academic jobs and don’t bank on the novel becoming a best seller. Find work that relies on the THINKING and WRITING skills you’ve acquired, rather than the direct passage into the literature industry. Everything is changing; we’re all going “Adjunct.” And, if you know that, and you work it, you might find some great opportunities in piecing things together!

To learn more about Frances McCue's work, check out her website, FrancesMcCue.com. You can also connect with her on LinkedIn

Posted on February 22, 2015 and filed under Freelance, Poetry, Teaching, Writing.

How One Writer’s Instagram Scored Her a Book Deal

Alicia Cook was one of the very first people we interviewed for Dear English Major, and less than one year later, she's got herself a book deal! Entranced—her book of poetry—will be available for purchase on February 17th, 2015 by Underwater Mountains and will be carried by 13 retailers (including Barnes & Noble) in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. 

Alicia was kind enough to take the time to tell us all about her upcoming release, what led to it, and more:

  Entranced  features four different covers, all designed by Alicia. 

Entranced features four different covers, all designed by Alicia. 

Thank you for taking the time to share your upcoming poetry book with us. Why don't you just start out by telling us a bit about your book Entranced.

Alicia Cook: Thank you for even wanting to hear about it! It's very surreal. If you told me less than two years ago when I started sharing my writing publicly that I would have a book deal today and be a contributing writer with two major online blogs, I wouldn't believe it. It has always been a dream of mine, but I thought it was more of a pipe dream. I have been writing creatively since I was eight years old and I studied English in college, so it's a dream come true.

I recently signed a book deal with Underwater Mountains Publishing, an independent publisher based out of Los Angeles. They are a force of nature. They took on a lot of “Instagram writers" and have really been amazing during this whole process. Entranced is a book of poetry comprised of 100 never-before-seen poems as well as a bunch of my favorite pieces that I have already shared on Instagram.

I named it Entranced because the definition of the word is "fill someone with wonder and delight, holding their entire attention." And I really hope my words hold that power… to captivate someone, to SPEAK to someone. I don't want someone to read my book, and just put it down after without taking at least one special thing away with them. The best part of my day is when a complete stranger messages me and "thanks me" for writing something that they "needed" to read at that very moment to help them through whatever they are going through. That means the world to me.

What inspired you to begin sharing your work on Instagram?

Alicia: In 2012 after Hurricane Sandy, I wrote "An Open Letter to the Shore Kids" that went viral. At the bottom of the article, I just happened to include my email and Instagram name, @thealiciacook. Next thing I knew, I had strangers from all over the country emailing me to share their shore memories and following me on Instagram. The piece had resonated with them. I responded to every single email and comment I received on the piece.

One of the people who emailed me was a hip chick from Oregon (Hi Lindsey!). For some reason, I took to her and she really pushed me, whether she knows it or not, to begin sharing my work more regularly… and the rest is history! This boost in readership and confidence has led to other writing opportunities like contributing to Elite Daily and Thought Catalog, as well as my upcoming book.

How did your book deal come about?

Alicia: Basically, Underwater Mountains started signing deals with some popular Instagram writers. One of those writers suggested they check me out. After I heard from them, I formally submitted my work for their review, and I got a call later that day that they were interested.

What tips do you have for other writers who want to share their work on Instagram or other social media platforms?

Alicia: Social media is a powerful tool. I only have Instagram, so I don't want to speak to sharing work on other social media platforms. But when it comes to sharing creativity, be it writing, drawing, singing, calligraphy—you name it—my advice is just to be yourself, be sincere. Do not just try to replicate what "worked" for other artists out there on social media, because it won't work for you, and no one likes a rip-off. Bring something to this creative community that is different, and you will stand out.

Once you start gaining momentum, try to respond directly and personally to every person who may reach out to you. It becomes time consuming, but that interaction and human connection is my favorite part of all this. Stay true to your own voice while still being supportive of other's work as well. Hashtag appropriately. And for God's sake NEVER, EVER steal someone else's creative property.

What has the pre-publishing process been like?

Alicia: I am actually in the pre-publishing phase still! It's been exciting, but also nerve-wracking. I know that when my deadline comes I will need 100+ poems that I am actually PROUD of and stand behind. And I am a perfectionist at times. Every day I re-write the poems, even if it is just changing a word or two. I am having fun titling them. My publishing company has given me freedom to express myself, which I am grateful for. The editors are top notch. I even drew/painted all four of my book covers myself!

What's the plan once your book is published? What will you do to promote it? Will you go on tour?

Alicia: I won't be going on tour. But through Instagram I plan on letting people who might be in the area know when I am going to go to a store and geek out over seeing my book on a shelf. I have some ideas up my sleeve about how to make this even more fun.

Also, most of the other writers signed to Underwater are supportive of one another. We write together, we share one another's work. So their "readers" will occasionally see my name or work on their pages as well, which is awesome. The publisher is the reason the book is even getting put anywhere, physical or online, so I am grateful for whatever they decide to do to push my book as well. Right now I am on their website and Instagram. We will see what the future holds come February 17th!

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Alicia: The more I "get to know" other writers on social media, the more I realize that some of the people closest to them—friends, family—do not even know they write! The realization that not everyone has a support system for their passion around them made me take a step back and realize I was taking my family and friend's support of my writing for granted.

My parents never once told me I couldn't achieve my ultimate goal of sharing my words. They bought me my typewriter when I was ten. They supported me when I decided to major in English in college. They never once discouraged me. My mom still prints out all my blog articles and basically forces the neighbors to read them as she stands right next to them. My dad doesn't always "get it" but he gets that other people do. My sister, Kellie, and best friend, Renee, are two of my biggest fans. I could never imagine hiding such a huge part of my being—my existence—from the people I love the most. What I am trying to say here is that the more I travel down this road, the more grateful I am for my family and friends and their unwavering support.



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Posted on January 19, 2015 and filed under Social Media, Publishing, Poetry, Writing, Featured Articles.

Maggie Smith-Beehler: Poet, Author, Freelance Writer & Editor

Name: Maggie Smith-Beehler

Age: 37

College & Majors/Minors: Ohio Wesleyan University, BA English & The Ohio State University, MFA Poetry

Current Location: Bexley, Ohio

Current Form of Employment: Poet, Author, Freelance Writer and Editor

Where do you work and what is your current position? 

I work at home and have several positions, some more glamorous (and lucrative) than others. As Maggie Smith-Beehler, my married name, I’m a freelance writer and editor, owner of Versed Creative Services, LLC, and a stay-at-home mom to my two children. As Maggie Smith, I’m a poet and author.

After college graduation, I earned an MFA in poetry from The Ohio State University, taught creative writing at Gettysburg College for a year, published my first book of poems, Lamp of the Body, got married, and began a career in publishing. I worked in educational and trade book publishing for several years, balancing full-time editorial work, poetry writing, and family.

When I received a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2011, the financial cushion gave me the courage to leave my full-time job and begin freelancing from home. These days I’m on kid duty during the day, and I work at night after my daughter and son are in bed. The work is complex and varies from client to client, which I enjoy. Projects to date have included writing lessons for a Grade K language arts textbook, writing rhyming poems for a Grade 1 poetry anthology, editing digital activities for an elementary reading intervention program, and copyediting academic books for a university press.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). 

In the year between college and grad school, I worked as a receptionist while continuing to write. My first writing-related job after graduate school was at Gettysburg College. I received the Emerging Writer Lectureship for 2003–2004, so I moved to Pennsylvania and taught both introductory and advanced creative writing courses for one academic year. It was an intense and mostly wonderful experience, but I’m an introvert, so being “on” so much of the day was challenging. I also knew that going on the academic job market would mean that I would have to follow the teaching jobs rather than settle back in Ohio. So I moved back to Columbus in 2004 and figured I’d find another way to make a living.

I wasn’t quite sure what I would do next. My first book had been taken by a publisher and was due out the following year. I’d had a prestigious position…but now what? Could I cobble something together by adjunct teaching? Could I find a job at a magazine? I ended up interviewing for an assistant editor position with a children’s trade book publisher. The interview required an editing test and a writing test—and frankly, the interview process was a cakewalk compared to daylong academic interviews. I got the job. It meant a $10,000 pay cut. It also meant no summers off, no winter break, no community of poets and writers. I’d be lying if I said that leaving academia didn’t come with a price, but I was home with my husband, and I really enjoyed editorial work.

I was there for two years and was promoted fairly quickly to associate editor. I read the “slush” (unsolicited manuscripts) and chose the most promising proposals to present to the editorial director. I also got the opportunity to work with authors to revise their manuscripts and develop the books. At the same time, I was writing copy for catalogs, posters, websites, bookmarks, book jackets, and book flaps. It was a terrific crash course in publishing, and writing and editing felt like a natural fit for me in a way that teaching hadn’t. I left that company in 2006 and went into educational publishing from there. In 2011 I took the leap of faith to go freelance. 

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career? 

The “other” writing job in my life is my career as a professional poet. My latest chapbook, Disasterology, won the 2013 Dream Horse Press National Chapbook Prize and will be published in 2014. My next full-length book, The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, won the 2012 Dorset Prize and will be published by Tupelo Press in 2015.

When I was working full-time in an office, I had two weeks of vacation time per year, and I used most of that for my daughter’s sick days. Now I have a lot more flexibility. I can spend more time writing and revising individual poems, organizing book manuscripts, writing commissioned work (as I did for Nationwide Children’s Hospital), and sometimes guest blogging (as I did for the Kenyon Review). I can schedule afternoon class visits and out-of-town poetry readings, and even travel for brief teaching stints, readings, and residencies. In 2011 I was able to accept a two-week residency fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and this summer I’ll be a Peter Taylor Fellow at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, where I’ll spend a week assisting poet Stanley Plumly with his workshop.  

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I’ve never been a “joiner.” Maybe that’s why writing poetry has always appealed to me—it’s not a team endeavor. I did work on the college literary magazine, though, and I loved it. I enjoyed seeing what my peers were doing, and I liked curating each issue with an eye toward how different pieces writing could speak to each other. But the one thing I did in college to prepare me for my post-grad life was writing. I wrote. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I took a year off between college and grad school to see if I’d keep at it, without the motivation of deadlines and grades. If I didn’t, then maybe I wasn’t a “real” writer—and maybe I shouldn’t go to grad school for poetry. But if I did keep at it, I’d let myself give an MFA a shot. And that’s what happened.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

I’d suggest thinking about a potential career in practical terms. Think about the logistics. How much education or experience is required? What is the average salary? Could you do the job where you currently live or would you need to move to a place where the industry is more developed? Do your research. If you can intern, do so. If not, perhaps your alumni relations office could put you in touch with an alum in the field you’re considering. Also keep in mind that there are plenty of careers in which writing and editing skills are extremely important, even though they may be less obvious choices than writer, editor, or teacher.

And for the creative writers out there: write. Find some aesthetically compatible people with whom to share your work. Maybe you meet a few friends at a coffee shop once or twice a month, or maybe—like me—you email poems or stories back and forth with a few close friends, because your best readers live hundreds of miles away. Submit when you’re ready, but don’t be in a hurry. Read literary journals, buy them, subscribe to them. And don’t take rejection too personally. Some pieces or books get snatched up quickly. Others you may send out for years. All that waiting will give you plenty of time to write some more.

Visit www.maggiesmithpoet.com to check out more of Maggie's work!


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 Nicki Krawczyk: Copywriter, Copy Coach & Founder of FilthyRichWriter.com

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 Sara Shepherd: Freelance Writer

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Posted on March 14, 2014 and filed under Editing, Freelance, Publishing, Self-Employed, Teaching, Writing, Poetry.