Sunday, May 17, 2015

Amazon Giveaway of "Publicize This!"

I'm very happy to announce my second book Giveaway, this one via Amazon.com.

"Publicize This!" is a beginner's guide for community and/or nonprofit groups who need to grow their membership, raise awareness of important issues, and solicit donations to advance their objectives—despite the fact that they have a limited or nonexistent marketing budget. Packed with practical advice, this brief and to-the-point book details specific steps that groups might take to make a simple marketing plan, compile a custom media distribution list, advertise group events, capitalize on post-event publicity opportunities, and generate ongoing word-of-mouth that furthers the group's overall goals. All it takes is "some dedication, a little targeted research, diligent collection of relevant information, and steady application of what is learned along the way." Quick and easy fundraising ideas are included, as well as samples of blurbs, announcements, a radio script, and other promotional pieces for modeling purposes. 80 pages.

If you'd like to be entered to win one of three copies of Publicize This! Promoting Your Group/Nonprofit on a Limited or Nonexistent Budget, visit this link and follow me on Twitter (@KPVermaelen) today!

Good luck!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Two Poems Down...

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending the launch party for Suffolk County Poetry Review 2015 in the gorgeous Hunt Room at Dowling College, where I read "God's Mother," one of two poems of mine that appear in the issue. I also enjoyed hearing many other talented poets read their work at the event.

What I didn't know going in is that this is the inaugural issue of Suffolk County Poetry Review, the very first in what will be a long and successful line of poetry anthologies featuring Long Island poets. I am so honored and thrilled to be included alongside the many talented poets in this first issue.

"God's Mother" can be found on page 88. This poem was inspired by my older son's past penchant for drawing endless pictures of our solar system, which he then left around the house in piles. When I told him "We have no more room for your solar systems," inspiration struck. I began to wonder what She might have told Him while he created the universe with reckless speed and abandon.

"Virago," which appears on page 89, was inspired by dual definitions provided in a word-of-the-day email from an online dictionary. The dichotomy of this noun, which applies exclusively to women and has both positive and negative meanings, inspired some (admittedly bitter) thinking about why such a word exists, especially as there seems to be no equivalent noun for men.   

Suffolk County Poetry Review contains the work of over 50 local poets and was edited by current Suffolk County Poet Laureate Ed Stever, Pramila Venkateswaran and James P. Wagner (Ishwa). If you love poetry, consider picking up a copy of Suffolk County Poetry Review: An Anthology of Suffolk County Poetry from Local Gems Press today.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

"Publicize This!" Goodreads Giveaway

Got publicity? If not, please enter my Goodreads Giveaway for a copy of "Publicize This! Promoting Your Group or Nonprofit on a Limited or Nonexistent Budget," which runs until May 3rd, 2015, by clicking on the "Enter to Win" link below:



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Publicize This! Promoting Your Group or Nonprofit on a Limite... by Kathleen P. Vermaelen
Enter to Win

Good luck to all who enter! Here's hoping I send the winning copy to you.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Blogging Haiku

This blog's on the list:
Things that I should be doing
that never get done.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

In Rejection of (Certain) Rejections





The worst rejection letter I ever received was from a small Colorado-based "literary" magazine that billed itself as prime literature for the doctor's office waiting room.

I'm going to let the above line stand alone and sink in. Consider for a moment, if you will, the plight of the writer. Good writing doesn't just happen; it takes time and effort. Querying literary magazines to get the writing published, thereby validating said expended time and effort, takes even more time and effort. The higher profile publications receive hundreds—perhaps thousands—of stories each month. Competition for placement is fierce, and refusals are many. Rejection-free indie publishing has removed some of the sting, but even these authors will admit they'd rather have someone accept and publish their work "traditionally," which is the only reason why we continue to subject ourselves to the often soul-crushing process of querying.

This, of course, brings me back to my opening sentence. The rejecting publication was not The Paris Review. It was something people read while waiting to get their tonsils swabbed for a strep test. Moreover, it was helping to spread strep to the next unsuspecting reader/patient, and then to the one after that. What I'm trying to say here, gently, is that I wasn't aiming all that high.

Even so, I'd done my homework by reading the publication and developing a feel for what they liked. I selected a story that fit their style. After drafting a professional query letter, I mailed the still-warm manuscript out First Class. For a few days, I basked in the pleasant possibility that another one of my stories would be published.

Less than a week later, an S.A.S.E. arrived in my mailbox. At once, I knew that a single sheet of paper was inside—never a good sign. Sighing, I tore it open, expecting the usual: Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, we do not feel it is right for our publication. We wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere. These form rejection letters are unsigned and grainy from years of having been photocopied off other yellowing photocopies of the first form rejection letter ever written, no doubt penned and printed by Gutenberg himself. Like most professional writers, I've received more than my fair share of them.

What I found inside, however, was something altogether different. In my hands was the same query letter I'd mailed out only days earlier. Right underneath my signature, the editor had written in two-inch-tall block letters with a red Sharpie marker:

NO! 

It's difficult to describe what went through my mind and in what order. I remember an initial flash of mortification, some disbelief (Was Allen Funt hiding nearby, filming everything?) and, finally, indignation. Would it have killed the editor to be polite? After all, he'd solicited in Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. Why respond like I'd shown up selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door just as dinner was being put on the table?

Rejection sucks in general, but it especially blows when delivered by sucker-punch from a decidedly mediocre publication. My good friend Erin, a talented poet, shared her own frustration a while back when her work was rejected by a "literary" magazine that was—I kid you not—printed on typing paper and then crookedly stapled with such amateurish aplomb that it made me (a former print production manager for a Fortune 500 company) want to throw its editors into a cage and spray them with a fire hose until they screamed for mercy. At least they’d had the common decency, however, to be polite to her.

Yes, I know: Writers aren't supposed to bitch about these things. It's considered poor form. Still, someone needs to point out that we’re all in the same boat here. In graduate school, we were told that we should "support" literary magazines with subscriptions and purchases because those people worked so hard with little financial recompense for their troubles. Oh, the irony.

This question-doubling-as-a-suggestion probably flies in the face of The Way Things Are™, but here it goes, anyway: Wouldn’t it be great if these publications were wired to support writers too? Perhaps a more cordial “thank you” for having taking the time and effort to submit material should be offered instead of a sterile form letter or worse, an obnoxious note. Yes, writers want something when querying, but in most cases it’s in exchange for no cash payment, just a single copy of the issue and “exposure” in a mostly-unknown publication. These publications should, at the very least, reciprocate some professional courtesy.

I’ve said my piece and counted to three. Say yours below, if you’re so inclined.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Stupid Cancer -- An Original Poem


Stupid Cancer

I read an online meme today
that began, inexplicably,
with the words  
Stupid cancer!
and I sat there, baffled 
that a stunning word like
cancer
could be married to an underachiever
like stupid.
The noun, insidious,
loaded, life-changing. The adjective,
what a toddler shouts at
a sandbox playmate who stole
her pail. A surfeit of 
dazzling descriptors
exist, yet the writer chose
to pair stupid with  
cancer. The word
devastating
must have been hiding under
the couch that day, while
catastrophic
vacationed incognito
in a small Colorado town.
Let's call things what they 
are. Let's stop 
pretending, stop 
giving out pink
teddy bears in the aftermath
of shocking diagnosis. Let's 
give people swords 
and cheer them on while,
like gladiators, they go into
the arena to cut stupid cancer's
motherf*cking head off.


© 2014, K. P. Vermaelen. All rights reserved.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

TURNed Off

"There are only a couple of things I have a problem with--the story and the dialogue."
-- Michael Burgess (played by Alan Alda) in Sweet Liberty

Jamie Bell as Abraham Woodhull--one thing "Turn" did right
What a difference a month makes. The last time I posted here, I was struggling with the prospect of writing a bad review. Now here I am, about to give one.

As a historical fiction writer and a college professor who has slogged through the archives of Long Island's Revolutionary War history for personal and professional reasons, I had the highest hopes for AMC's Turn. For too long, Long Island's history of British Occupation and the covert role that Long Islanders played in helping our young country win the war has been side-stepped by American history textbooks and teachers alike. Turn, I believed, would begin to educate the public about what really happened on Long Island during the American Revolution. Or so I'd hoped.

In the first episode of Turn, Abraham Woodhull is "turned" by childhood friend Benjamin Tallmadge against the loyalist leanings of his family and the greater Setauket community. He secretly pines for Anna Smith Strong, his ex-fiancé, who runs Strong Tavern in her arrested husband's absence (Selah Strong has been incarcerated for accidentally assaulting a British officer during a tavern brawl, leaving Anna to fend for herself), and Woodhull convinces her to pitch in by hanging her black petticoat on her clothesline as a signal when he has intelligence to share. Woodhull then takes an oath of loyalty to the crown in a Setauket public square to solidify his cover before getting down to the business of surreptitiously changing young America's fortune in the War for American Independence.

This all sounds exciting and fantastic. What it lacks is historical accuracy. First of all, Abraham Woodhull was not a Tory. He served on the Committee of Public Safety in Brookhaven Town, he was a lieutenant in the local militia, and he signed an oath of loyalty to support the Continental Congress prior to the occupation. When Tallmadge suggested spying for the cause, Woodhull would have had no problem with the request. In fact, it might even have been Woodhull's idea.

Second, Woodhull was 26 in 1776 and was single for the first five years of the war; he didn't marry Mary Smith until 1781, a time at which the British were beginning to redirect Long Island-based troops to support to their flailing South Carolina campaign. Abraham and Mary never had a son named Thomas, nor did Abraham have a predeceased brother by that name who was held up as a shining example of who Abraham should be in order to please his demanding father Richard.

This romance never happened.
Third, no engagement to Anna Smith Strong ever existed, and no arranged marriage brokered by Woodhull's father and Obadiah Smith ever thwarted his intentions to marry her. Anna (Nancy) Smith married Selah Strong in 1760, when Woodhull was just ten years old, and she birthed her first child in 1761. By age 36 in 1776, she was pregnant with her seventh child, a boy born in December of that year. Despite this large brood, "Annie" is portrayed as childless in Turn; the Strong children have been written out to smooth the way for the imaginary romance. Yes, Selah Strong was arrested and sent to the notorious prison ship Jersey, but for the crime of espionage. Strong didn't even own a tavern in Setauket; he was a farmer. The real Setauket tavern owner in the spy ring was Captain Austin Roe, a patriot who for whatever reason has yet to make an appearance in the series.

In summary, a sizeable chunk of this true story has been completely fabricated.

My problem with Turn stems from this belief: Historical fiction has an obligation at least to try to get the facts right, and especially so when using the names of real historical figures. Consider HBO's excellent John Adams series, based on David McCullough's masterful book. The scriptwriters didn't have John Adams lusting after another woman, nor did they feign his ideology or write in/out family members to match an altered story line. In John Adams, the historical record remains largely intact. Imagined scenes, such as the conversation John holds with cousin Sam Adams prior to a public tarring-and-feathering, are present solely to develop characters further. There's no need to "sex up" John Adams' story by adding fictional elements. It's "sexy" enough as is.

The same truth holds for Long Island's history. After the American loss at the Battle of Long Island, British soldiers subjected the island's inhabitants to numerous documented abuses. Twenty two thousand British soldiers and Hessian mercenaries were stationed there, matching the adult population in number. Martial law was imposed. Ports were closed, and travel off Long Island became impossible without British permission. Beatings, robberies, rapes, murders and other crimes were committed by the British with impunity. Although the island became a safe haven for Tory refugees, loyalists living there still carried "papers of protection" in case they got into a scrape with the soldiery. One can easily reason that it was a desperate time for residents of colonial Long Island.

Yet these remarkable circumstances somehow failed to create a compelling enough backdrop for Turn. Illicit romance and exaggerated loyalist sympathies are introduced to make Abraham Woodhull not only a spy, but a married man living on the edge, torn between his "true love" and his wife, always in danger of being caught by a Tory neighbor. Apparently, the potential threat of torture and execution upon discovery of his spy work wasn't considered enough to keep the viewing public intrigued. The story needed additional fictional elements to be made more appealing.

In 1986, Alan Alda starred in Sweet Liberty, a movie about a history professor who watches in horror as the movie adaptation of his ancestor's Revolutionary War diary deviates from the original true story to a fictional one of illicit romance between his ancestor and a British officer. In the film, changes are justified by movie-makers as a way to make history "more interesting" for young people. The parallel between the plot of Sweet Liberty and what's happened in Turn causes more than a little déjà vu. [Watch the trailer here.]

Turn also engages in what I call McHistory--that is, the oversimplification of complex historical situations so as to avoid any bothersome critical thinking. The scholar-debunked idea that Long Island was "mostly Tory" persists in character dialogue; the first episode emphasizes in an almost cartoonish way that Whigs will find "no friends in New York." Richard Woodhull, a judge, is portrayed as a staunch loyalist. Never mind that this is the same man whose father's and grandfather's graves were "desecrated" by British soldiers*--an act that Turn portrays as orchestrated by said Woodhull on British behalf. Young Abraham "turning" against the imagined Tory ideology of his community is far more dramatic than the reality: The island contained a minority of die-hard loyalists in 1776 and was rabidly patriotic by the end of the British occupation (a fact supported by the island-wide "Tory purge" of 1783 in which loyalists were forced to flee by ship to Nova Scotia immediately following the signing of the Treaty of Paris).

All of this goes to show that one can't get his/her history from a television show. Despite the televised endorsements of historical societies and "historians," Turn is not the true story of Long Island's first spy ring. It's Long Island's very own version of Sweet Liberty, brought to life by attractive and talented actors (the only reason to watch) who likely have no idea that the "history" they're portraying is more creative license than fact, the product of a scriptwriting arrogance that oversimplifies and "improves" real history for entertainment purposes.

I just hope that the people who brought John Adams to life for HBO will get around to making a true version of the Culper Spy Ring story someday. That would be worth watching.


* as per the notes of Morton Pennypacker, on file at the East Hampton Library's Long Island Collection.