Archive for February, 2013

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My First Book (3rd Grade)

As a child, I found every opportunity and excuse to write.  An extra credit assignment, an elective class, even unassigned parts of homework…if they involved some type of writing, I jumped at the chance!  I spent hours of my childhood—indoors, outdoors, and everywhere in between—reading, brainstorming ideas, and writing on anything I could get my hands on.  I was incredibly addicted to reading stories and enjoyed making up my own.

Sadly, most of my writing from before 1999 has been lost.  Yes, life happens, but it’s always sad when something you hold dear, especially something that you’ve created, is gone forever.  A few months ago, however, I found the first book I ever wrote.  It was tucked away in the back of the attic and fell out of a box when I was preparing to move.  I was thrilled to have rediscovered this little treasure!

I had never forgotten my little book, titled “The Dirtiest Dog in the World.”  It was a 3rd grade writing assignment.  The whole class was given a sheet of book titles, and each student was asked to pick one of those titles, come up with a story, and then draw pictures to illustrate it.  The teacher gave us sheets of story paper and then helped us put our books together with a cover and even an About the Author section.

It was a wonderful assignment, and I know that I’ll never forget it. There isn’t anything spectacular about my story or the illustrations.  I was only 8 years old at the time.  But when I rediscovered my first book, I remembered the excitement and joy I felt when I carefully wrote my story and illustrated every page.  During those precious moments spent making my book, I was the happiest a little girl could ever be.  And when I completed it and showed it to my family and friends my heart swelled with such pride.  That day, I knew that this would be but my first book.

Although the pages have yellowed and the edges have become tattered, this book is one of my most prized possessions.  In it lie all my hopes and dreams to be a writer.  It symbolizes the passion that still burns in my heart to put my thoughts and ideas on paper—to entertain others and to even inspire and touch my readers’ hearts.  And even if it falls apart one day, I’ll always remember fondly that it helped make me the writer I am today.

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A snapshot of my first poem submitted to Poetry.com.

I tend to be a level-headed, patient person. I’m quick to forgive and try to move beyond any mistreatment from others. But sometimes, it is necessary to stand up and make a ruckus to ensure a grievance is known. Right now is one of those times!

Back when I was a teenager (16 or 17) I was an aspiring poet and author, hoping with all my might that my work would get published one day…while simultaneously fearing that I was a talentless wannabe. By that time, I had written over 100 poems and some of my family and friends started to take notice and encouraged me to be bold and keep writing.

Though I’m hazy as to exactly how, I eventually came across a site that regularly held poetry contests, Poetry.com. And deciding to reach for my dreams, I entered one of my favorite poems and waited anxiously to hear back. As I expected, I didn’t win the contest. However, much to my surprise, I was one of the poets chosen to not only have their work published in a book but also as an audio reading, too. I was ecstatic!

I’m never one for remembering numbers, so I can’t tell you the prices of the book and tape that featured my poem. Yet, I still recall that I had thought that the prices were a little steep (especially for the book). Seeing as I was a first-time published poet, though, this was a momentous occasion, and I couldn’t help but purchase the tape so I could show it off to my family and friends.

After that, I was a lot more confident and eager to have more of my writing published. Every now and then, Poetry.com would send me a letter which announced another anthology that my poetry would be perfect for. And before I knew it, I had 9 poems published in their books, one of which brought the exciting achievement of being featured in one of their international anthologies. With the allure of international fame, I couldn’t pass up buying a copy, even though I was stunned by the price.

As time passed and I became an adult, I started growing distrustful of Poetry.com. Although I longed to have great talent, part of me started thinking that this was a little too easy. No, I had never won a single poetry contest, but their letters contained a lot of praise for my poetry…maybe a little too much praise. But when I entered a state poetry contest for high school students and was a top-10 winner (winning a $50 savings bond and a free copy of the anthology) my suspicions lessened.

After I graduated high school and went on to college, I didn’t have much time for poetry contests and I temporarily forgot Poetry.com. However, once I settled into my class schedule and new routine, my desire to write poetry surfaced again. As I wrote more poems, the need to see my work published again drove me to seek out possible contests I could enter. There near the top of my web search was my old friend, Poetry.com.

However, also in that search was a blog post insisting that Poetry.com was a scam! As I researched more and more, my stomach sunk and I felt sick. There were more claims than I could count that Poetry.com was nothing more than a sly crook. I felt angry, betrayed, humiliated, and even a little idiotic. How could I fall for such a ploy?

After some more thought, though, I realized that I should only feel angry and betrayed. They were the ones taking advantage of unsuspecting people, making the site look like a legitimate contest and publishing opportunity when it was nothing more than a vanity publisher that was out to make as much money as possible.

Ultimately, I would have brushed the experience off as a mistake and moved on. Although I hate the idea of being deceived, Poetry.com DID give me the courage to step up and pursue my dreams. Without that ‘opportunity’—no matter how backhanded and unethical—I might still be hiding behind my pen or I would have taken much longer to get up the nerve to take a chance. Hey, I’m a strong believer that great things can come from mistakes and bad experiences.

Unfortunately, that is not the end of Poetry.com’s deception! Once I discovered the site’s true nature, I immediately demanded that every single one of my poems be removed from Poetry.com. I did not want them to continue to profit from my writing nor did I ever want to be associated with them again. Poetry.com replied that they had no problem with my request, and my poetry was taken down. My ugly saga with Poetry.com had ended…

…or so I had believed until early 2012. One morning, I awoke to an email announcing that Poetry.com had been purchased by another company and was planning to unveil a bunch of exciting new changes to the site. It also gave instructions on how to claim any poetry that you had previously published with the site.

Knowing that I shouldn’t have any poems to claim, but growing more uneasy by the second, I clicked on the enclosed link, created an account, and searched for my name. Immediately, 4 of my poems popped up…4 poems that I had clearly asked to have removed years before. Not wanting to place blame on the new owners of Poetry.com, I simply claimed my poems and then marked them to be removed.

Thinking the problem was finally resolved, I moved on with my life…until last week. During one of my routine plagiarism searches, I found one of my poems still on Poetry.com. I went back to the site, tried to access my account, but it kept insisting the email address / password combo was incorrect. I attempted to reset my password, which somehow only inadvertently created another account using my Facebook profile. Angry and frustrated, I sent Poetry.com another email explaining that I was very unhappy that all my poems were still on their site and that I wanted them removed ASAP. I tried to be as polite as possible, hoping civility and tact would get me somewhere.

But here I am, a week later, still waiting for some type of response. Knowing Poetry.com’s track record, I’m not expecting one any time soon. In the meantime, I’ll be warning everyone I can to stay far away from Poetry.com. I don’t want anyone to have to go through a similar experience.

Poetry.com humiliated me, took advantage of my dreams, and now is refusing to return what belongs to me, even though they claimed from the beginning I would retain all rights to my poetry. I refuse to sit by while they use my writing to help lure in more unsuspecting amateur poets, and I will not rest until every word I have written is permanently erased from that deplorable site!

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We writers hear so often about getting—and staying—in touch with our inner writer.  We are advised to eat, sleep, and live the written word.  But in all the hubbub of trying to find inspiration, discipline, experience, and a market for our writing, we sometimes lose touch with the rest of our being.

Of course, I AM a writer.  Nothing could ever change that.  It seems like I was born with the desire to tell my own tales and to express my thoughts and ideas on paper.  To deny the writer in me would be to deny myself.  Yet, sometimes, the rest of me feels neglected.  When was the last time I was able to listen to my favorite music without a writing idea interrupting?  How come I don’t give priority to photography like I do with writing, even though I am frequently inspired by the sights around me?  What was the last book I read without my inner writer critiquing or comparing the author’s writing with my own?

Sometimes I just want to scream and tell her to shut up and mind her own business…to take her turn for a change!  Yes, I’m a writer, but I am so much more than that.  I am a mother, animal lover, and an outdoor enthusiast.  I love cooking, painting landscapes, sketching, gardening, and working with my hands.  I’m addicted to listening to music of vast genres, taking photos, reading/collecting books, and consuming everything chocolate in sight!  And if you haven’t noticed, I’m enamored with humor, laughter, and even sarcasm at times.

Consequently, calling me just a writer doesn’t do me justice—and treating myself as such would be insane.  I decided to start this blog as an outlet for when my inner writer and other facets collide.  Sometimes, what I have to say or what I am inspired to write doesn’t fit neatly into any of my current projects.  So, now I can come here and freely type away about whatever strikes my fancy.  I hope you join me for the ride.  You never know where it might lead!