“Long Ago and Far Away in a Kingdom by the Sea” – Poe, perhaps America’s most Musical and Cadenced Poet

Annabel Lee

By Edgar Allan Poe

It was many and many a year ago,
   In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
   By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
   Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
   I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
   Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
   In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
   My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
   And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
   In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
   Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
   In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
   Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
   Of those who were older than we—
   Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
   Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
   Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
   In her sepulchre there by the sea—
   In her tomb by the sounding sea.
Share this text …?
 (Haha, this is nothing!  Read his “Tintabulation of Bells!”)
Time was when word music and melody suited to the subject of the poem was a dire requirement, and proficiency in this area was proof positive of serious poetic talent.   When novitiates stopped studying prosody, theme and meter, the capacity was lost.
Today most lazy, ill-equipped “poets” think they can squeak by without it and imply such proficiency is passe’, even hokey. Sour grapes; they can’t perform! When a major prosody genius, a luminary like Seamus Heany, for instance, (or Theodore Roethke), stumbles though the highways and byways of our literary magazines, he reignites a new appreciation for the power of musical language to strengthen our verse, to make it impossible to forget, indeed, to render it instantly memorable.  Theodore_Roethke
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“A Poem Should Not Mean But Be” – William Carlos Williams

Few novice poets today are familiar with this major talent, the wholly original and inimitable physician William Carlos Williams. A medical doctor all of his days and exquisitely attuned to both the strengths and limitations of poetry in capturing and explaining our lives and souls discursively.

Poets fall out of favor routinely, though, then are resurrected and canonized (as in the august literary canon–we should all be so fortunate).

But consider this, in his hey day Williams’ straightforward, unvarnished poetics, caused a stir. Quite a stir. And I’m betting the fickle fashion  of poesy will once again laud his singular unpretentious genius with a newly revived appreciation and gratitude.

Said Williams years ago–

A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words. When I say there is nothing sentimental about a poem I mean there can be no part, as in any other machine, that is redundant …. Its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.  Therefore, each speech having its own character, the poetry it engenders will be peculiar to to that speech also in its own intrinsic form. The effect is beauty, what in a single object significance–into an intense expression of his perception and ardors that they may constitute a revelation in the speech he uses. [ital/bold mine] It resolves our complex feelings of propriety ….When a man makes a poem, makes it mind you, he takes words as he finds them– interrelated about him, and composes them without distortion  which would mar their exact significances–into  and ardors an intense expression of his perceptions isn’t what he says that counts as a work of art, it’s what he makes, with such intensity of perception that it lives with an intrinsic movement of its own to verify its authenticity.”

We’ve always liked to assume we were immensely talented Big Shots deserving of eternal acclaim for unforgettably getting down on paper once and for all what it means to be human (with a capital H) and thankful we weren’t instead thrust down the evolutionary ladder until our diction, metaphorical skills and one note repertoire improved.  God forefend! To be traumatically transmorgafied by the diety into “pointless” albino frogs (see previous point here) who can’t carry a tune, nevermind the burden of significance.

The critic and poet himself, Randall Jarrell (1949), wrote an astute appreciation of Williams’ poetry for James Laughlin’s highly regarded New Directions Publishing Co.  I have relied heavily on his observations in WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS: SELECTED POEMS.


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“The Frog in my Boot by the Door” a prose poem

Note: I have been so busy editing books for other writers that I have had almost no time to do my regular blogging.  I hope you’ll forgive me dear friends, but I have come up with sort of a makeshift solution.  I have always written poetry and about poetry, and am in the process of assembling a new collection of my verse for publication. Some of them have been pubbed in periodicals, though most have not.

What follows is one, a prose poem, that has received no exposure so far.  It’s kind of quirky and about how poems often get written (not a straightforward process usually), and ultimately about poetry itself.

For the time being, I’m going to share with you some unpublished verse from time to time in lieu of my more serious writing advice and criticism until I get caught up with my editorial assignments.  If you have some poems of your own that you’d like to share here, please let me know.  I’d love to showcase them for you!

“The Frog in My Boot by the Door” A Prose Poem albino frog

© Copyright 2015, Margaret Langstaff, All Rights Reserved (first publication of this polymorphous perversity)

There are so many squirming things to be, amphibiously (or otherwise): polymorphs, artiodactyla, stones and pebbles between the toes in your shoe, stars, star dust, spring chickens, fried chickens, deep summer watermelons—lush, sweet, seeded with hope and enough juice to survive the dog days, Autumn mums, Wintry dads, a leaf born along by a wind for good or ill, statesmen, saints, cogitators general, imperial wizards, dictators, terrorists, dirt beneath a shoe that once housed a soul (tempus fugit, and so do we), endless permutations, shape shifting phenomena, bodily and psychically, truly in view of the indisputable foregoing, why be a poet? Why attempt poetry?
Henry Ford, and he ought to have known, said with leaden finality: “Explanations are dangerous.” Like last year’s models, they are soon obsolete and create such pointless contention and ill will.
This frog himself knows a thing or two—too. And though noisy, abrasive and polemical as only a loud mouthed, smugly secure frog can be, his vigorous grandstanding is not for fame, fortune or sparkling insights sure to dazzle, inform and make all things new, for even nitwit frogs know everything old is new again ad infinitum. No, like all rhymers and metrical schemers, he is simply intent on being noticed, acknowledged, and bent on making a name for himself, he aspires to become a name on a plaque, create an award, run a famous impossible to get in workshop, maybe become an inspiration, or—if snubbed—an evil lying genius determined to destroy another’s good name and rep in high bombast of sulfuric ill will. Though why he or anyone would go to all that bother, prevaricating like The Father of Lies himself, I don’t know.
What good does it do, how does it profit a poet, to be a big toe on account of his big duplicitous mouth? This is not exactly news. “Poets are liars,” Plato said, thousands of years ago. His words remain unchallenged.
So then why all the lyrical fuss and heartache? Poets and poetry sprout because, when all is said and done, the truth remains cagey and elusive, and given this quagmire, there is nothing left to do but crack the nuts of the words themselves, pretend they render Band-Aids and lullabies in lieu of eternal truths; yes, crack those memes melodiously and make believe pleasurably, crack them open in one’s rough’s hands in the search for something more, maybe kernels of truth or pleasant lies or ambiguous disambiguation, a singular musical progress to who knows where, metrical, alive with slippery nuance, elusive, and pretty damn pointless if you’re looking for a point.
Which is often love or the lack thereof.
But I have been waylaid by the tangents poets always succumb to, a fascination with the sound of my own voice and temptation to think I’m onto something (Walker Percy warned scribblers about this in Lost in the Cosmos) because the words are beautiful and portentous seeming—and there’s always a chance something will survive and prove the useful anodyne all crave once we acknowledge the grave as prima fascia evidence that we are doodle bugs in the sand and can’t for the life of us achieve the blissful certainty that we are headed in any consistent direction at all for any particular reason.
Back to square one. As I was saying 800 words ago, case in point: a frog the size of a man’s fist has taken refuge in my boot outside the front door. He is gustatory, insistent, and as obnoxious as a large white quacking duck. Like all poets, he is in love with the sound of his own voice and the illusory metronome between his ears or buried in his bowels, a deep rasping sonority and irksome persistence that will carry his day to a satisfactory croaking decibel-busting, mind-bending conclusion, his ear-shattering, clattering sum of all things, rattling us into a teeth-grinding agreement with his folderol froggerall.
He thinks he is singing scripturally, prophetically, telling a timeless tale rigid with the truth that will echo down through the ages. Relentless, restless, Ack Ack, he complains as he crawls and flops out of the turned over boot, full throated Ack utterer, and imposing Buddha fat and self-satisfied. He quaffs the moment deeply with a long unblinking bulbous stare at the red horizon, and bellies up to a tasty, convenient buffet of insects swarming under the entrance light (fools!) which he swallows whole and struggling. They squirm, their tiny brown legs kick in panic. The frog swallows hard. He wears a permanent grin. No bug, once on his long fat sticky pink tongue can escape.
Emerging from the dark shadows like a drunken poesy potentate in the last rays of the red-cheeked sun, the lumpy wad of widely waddling frog, long tongue lashing the air with his clattering, clacking arias, I see for the first time he’s an pink eyed albino, as white as chalk, and real as E=MC2.
By God, this is a sign, a signal from another dimension. There are more like him. I will never wear those boots again. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard of such as this.
Chilled, I slam the door and switch off the porch light. Time for some bracing poems by St. John of the Cross or a bit of Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday,” for I will never know froglisch or Indo Amphibian.
If he is on my porch in the morning, I will either shoot him or catch him in my boot and take him to my six-year-old nephew. He wants to be an astronaut and finds frogs companionable and hale fellows well met.

© 2015 Margaret Langstaff, All Rights Reserved. Margaret@margaretlangstaffeditorial.com

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Time to Update Your Book Marketing Methods!

Books have wings

Books have wings

I ran across the following article online the other day and thought it was quite timely and helpful for most authors.  Here is a brief excerpt, and you can (and should!) read the rest by clicking on the link at the end of the piece here 🙂


The book publishing industry has experienced dramatic changes in the past couple decades. Previously, a few gatekeepers at major publishing houses determined what was worthy of publication. But the digital revolution democratized publishing, spawning the explosion of self-publishing and enabling hundreds of thousands of books to reach the market every year. Much like in the music industry, indie publishing created a wild west where virtually anyone could publish a book quickly and inexpensively.

The media has also changed. The Internet, social media, and instant communication processes have radically streamlined the relaying of newsworthy information, forging a leaner media corps in which fewer producers and editors create more and more content.

Unsurprisingly, these changes also prompted a shift in how books are promoted and marketed. Now the competition for media attention isn’t just fierce — it can be overwhelming. Relatively simple book publicity tactics of the past no longer suffice. While some core elements remain the same, for the most part the process of pitching and disseminating information about a book and the way information is presented to media is quite different.

Here are four examples of longstanding book promotion strategies that no longer work :

Outmoded Book Promo Strategies

And keep us in mind!   For All Your Editing and Writing Needs . . .  20 Years Professional Editing and Ghostwriting Experience with Major Publishers and Brand Name Authors. Visit our website for complete information regarding all of our services, credentials and endorsements.



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“It all comes out of that first line.”– E.L. Doctorow, 1931-2015


Writing advice and memories from prolific, revered literary American Novelist, E.L. Doctorow (Ragtime, The March, Billy Bathgate and more!)

From The New York Times (with video interview!)

By Emily B. Hager | Jul. 22, 2015 | 1:59

The acclaimed American novelist and playwright E. L. Doctorow gives some key writing tips. He died Tuesday in Manhattan at the age of 84 due to complications from lung cancer. Great video!

Posted in American Literature, American novels, Book Reviews, fiction, Literary Lions, Literature, New Yorl Times Book Review, NYTBR, publishing | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Joyce Carol Oates on Writing – Advice from a Master

[Terrific interview on BuzzFeed with literary icon Joyce Carol Oates about “writing.”] joyce carol oats “It’s been 52 years since Joyce Carol Oates published her first book, a short story collection titled By the North Gate. Since then, Oates, now 77, has written over 40 novels and countless poems and short stories, and she has been honored with the National Book Award and even Pulitzer Prize nominations. BuzzFeed recently had the chance to speak with Oates about the art of writing. Since the author has seen great literary success that most writers aspire to achieve, we asked her for advice. Here’s what she had to say: WRITING ADVICE FROM JOYCE CAROL OATES

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Grim Realities Face Women in India Today: New Book Sensation

This re-blog is actually about a fine novel I just finished editing a little over a week ago!


  • 51NicbHFmWL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_If you are not yet a fan of the young, award-winning writer, Fiza Pathan, her new novella Amina is a good place to start. I found it a compelling read.

Here is the description from the Amazon page of the Kindle edition, priced at only $2.99:

  • Amina: The Silent One brings vividly to life the grim realities facing women in India today, the grinding, filthy poverty, and debasement with which most Indian women must contend in their daily lives. This book will shock you and rip your eyes open. Through the magic of fiction, it tells an awful truth in human terms that cannot be told in any other way.
  • “The degradation of women in India is nearly universal, and ranges from their second-class status in society, often excluding them from educational and professional opportunities, to their frequent physical and psychological brutalization, often involving assault, rape, and sexual slavery.

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A List of Creative Writing Competitions in 2015

Nicholas C. Rossis

From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's booksStart reading Infinite Waters for free with Kindle Unlimited

You all know how much I love short stories, right? Well, enough to have published two collections so far, Infinite Waters being the latest one.

I recently entered a new short story of mine in a competition organized by Almond Press. While on their Dystopian Stories site, I noticed they have this great page with all sorts of short story competitions, with prizes up to $14,000. Naturally, I had to share.

And if you’re looking to get your short story published, check with my publisher friend Dan Dombrowski: he’s looking for stories to include in the next issue of his excellent Nonlocal Science Fiction Magazine.

CompetitionCountryClosing DateMax WordsEntry FeeTop Prize
The Pigeonhole Short Story CompetitionInternationalAugust 3rd5,000FreePublication
The Reading Room Short Story CompInternationalOctober 20th2,000£3£50 +…

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What’s the Big Idea?

falling-bookI was scratching my head yesterday at the astronomical number of new books on writing on the market today–most by people I’ve never heard of before with slim writing resumes and credentials.  If you take the time to examine enough of these, you quickly discover that they say nothing new; they all cover essentially the same ground and say the same yadda yadda. No big surprise there because the elements of a good story or work of non-fiction are universally acknowledged, as old as humankind and writing, and absolutely old hat to seasoned writers.

(Pulling off a masterpiece, actually writing one, nevertheless, never has been easy and never will be. I mean, I know how a bird flies.  It flaps its wings!  Does that mean I can fly? Uh, no. Not naturally, anyway.)

At any rate, these breathless books promising to turn the reader into not only a whiz-bang writer, but a bestselling one as well, owe their existence to the widespread naivete of the tsunami of wannabe authors, a creature of our time and the spawn of Amazon.  The books they pour over to acquire their writing skills do not contain stunning revelations, sure-fire gimmicks or heretofore closely guarded secrets on the “writing game.” Nope. And most are a rip.

But they are popping up all over the place because it seems everyone wants to be an “author” today, but few have  invested the time and energy necessary to master the craft of writing.  Sure, talent is important, but it’s not enough.  It takes time and effort, tons of reading and writing, re-writing, practice-practice-practice and revision. We’re talking years here, friend. And even then there are no guarantees.

Yes, but! you will say, what about all those instant bestselling ebooks by nobody writers?  What about them? Here today, gone tomorrow.  Do you remember what was on the bestseller lists ten years ago? I rest my case.

As both a writer and editor myself of many years, there are no truths I am more certain of than the “sweat factor” and the long learning curve that go into making a great writer.  Reading all the “how to” books on writing ever written does not a good writer make.

When I am introduced to someone for the first time, one of the most frequent questions I get, after my new friend has learned I’m a writer, is: “Wow.  Where do you get your ideas?” Now, you may think that sounds naive.  But it isn’t really.  All the great book ideas come from life, not from books about writing.  They come from watching and studying people, listening to them, wondering about them–and then asking yourself if so and so were in such and such a situation, what would this person do?

Voila: a believable plot is born, originating in character, and possibly resulting in an interesting book.


Having said all this, I will now nevertheless offer humbly a short list of writing tutorials (click-click) worth your time and their weight in gold.

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“Omit needless words!”–William Strunk Jr.

elements of style

Patient blogging, book-loving followers, I have just finished editing a 385 page manuscript, and I am here to report that such a long editorial stint is corrosive to one’s own writing.

Many of you may be aware that I wear two bookish hats professionally: writer and editor.  Though related, they can be antithetical to each other if indulged in undiluted form for extended periods of time.

The best writing comes from a non-critical, spontaneous sense of play.  Revision and editing, on the other hand, require a slow, meticulous (grinding!) attention to detail in order to be effective and to improve a manuscript.

When the spirit is on an inspired writer, the writer can sometimes break the sound barrier, rent a tear in the universe, create a sonic boom, with the rapid fire flow of words.  Oh, what a feeling, eh?  We’ve all been there from time to time if we’ve been at the writing craft for a while. Writing under such muse-flogging conditions often produces some of one’s best work (although always subject to review and revision).

Any editor, however, that edited at the speed of light ought to be fired on the spot.  It can’t be done.

The title of this little lament of mine is taken from (you probably already guessed) The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White, perhaps the most famous guide to writing of all time and the only “grammar” rule book (to my knowledge)  to have made the bestseller lists. If I had to distill the heart and soul of good editing, I would, like Strunk, utter the battle cry, “Omit needless words” (p.23).

Of the hundreds of reference works on editing and writing I own, this slim volume, barely one hundred pages, is by far the most valuable and the best single reference for my struggling clients.  It is also the least likely to squelch one’s imagination and the free flow of image and idea in the writing process.

At this point, I suppose I’ve given you my lame excuse for my absence here (work!) and given you a little lagniappe (a reminder of Strunk and White) to enhance your own writing and writing times.

I’ll give the master the last word in this and I won’t again stay away for so long. Happy reading and writing!

William Strunk’s words to the wise:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

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Something to Argue About! The Ten Greatest Novels of All Time?

I ran across this short video recently and thought bloggers here might find it worth pondering. It is a kind of hasty overview of these great works, a little daffy at points, but in aggregate, it is a selection worth considering. The list has actually inspired me to re-read Anna Karenina and a few of the other titles mentioned, great books I haven’t even thought about in some time.

What do you think? Do you agree with the uppity choices?  What would you add? 🙂

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And the winner is . . . . !

I’m sure everyone has been on the edge of their seats dying to know who the lucky duck would be to win the free copy of Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools ebook that Open Road Media gave me to raffle (?) off to followers of this blog.

Well, the long wait is over at last! My four year old niece Susie picked with her pudgy little fingers the slip of paper with Lee Ann Howlett’s name on it, so the prize goes to Lee Ann!

You other two sweethearts who kindly participated in this lackadaisical raffle, please accept these two kisses from me blown through cyberspace to your dear supportive cheeks!  I wish I could give you copies too, but we were only allotted one, so that’s the way it is 😦

Lee Ann, I hope you enjoy the novel. I think you said you read it once before long ago, but some things are even better the second time around.  I will email you the details for downloading the ebook momentarily.  Congratulations and happy reading!

Looking forward to getting back to things literary here and will shortly.  Until then, fellow book lovers–MJL

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Win a Free ebook of Katherine Anne Porter’s SHIP OF FOOLS!

ship of foolsI have been approached by Renata Sweeney of Open Road Integrated Media with a promo offer on their new ebook of Katherine Anne Porter’s classic SHIP OF FOOLS, a great novel that was made into a great film.

I have one to give away and the best way I could think of to do this is to ask fellow bloggers who follow this site to indicate their interest by leaving a comment at the end of this post and either include their email address or watch this blog like a hawk for the announcement of the winner.

After a week or ten days have passed to give all those interested time to throw their name in the pot, I thought I would use the super-scientific high tech method of putting all the names in a hat and having  my four year old niece (one who could hardly be accused of favoritism as she is just learning to read herself) pull the lucky winner’s name out of the hat. How’s that for a fancy lottery app? Don’t laugh or you’ll be disqualified.

To refresh everyone’s memory about this fine book I am going to crib Amazon’s product description and provide a Wikipedia link.

(To tell the truth I’m terrified that 1) this will somehow get all screwed up or 2) Renata’s feelings will get hurt because no one is interested. But she assures me this is very simple, practically fool proof, and we can’t disappoint such a generous, kind and literary lady like Renata, can we? No!)

So leave a comment indicating your burning desire to re-read this stupendous novel on Open Road Integrated Media’s new ebook edition whether you want to or not. You can always give it away–and if you decide to do that think of me because I would love to read it again. There are so few great novelists these days that know how to tell a rip-roaring story and really engage the reader from the first page to the last.

From Amazon–


Katherine Anne Porter’s first and only novel is a masterful allegory of the passions and prejudices that sparked World War II

“August 1931. An ocean liner bound for Germany sets out from the Mexican port city of Veracruz. The ship’s first-class passengers include an idealistic young American painter and her lover; a Spanish dance troupe with a sideline in larceny; an elderly German couple and their fat, seasick bulldog; and a boisterous band of Cuban medical students.

“As the Vera journeys across the Atlantic, the incidents and intrigues of several dozen passengers and crew members come into razor-sharp focus. The result is a richly drawn portrait of the human condition in all its complexity and a mesmerizing snapshot of a world drifting toward disaster.

“Written over a span of twenty years and based on the diary Katherine Anne Porter kept during a similar ocean voyage, Ship of Fools was the bestselling novel of 1962 and the inspiration for an Academy Award–winning film starring Vivien Leigh. It is a masterpiece of American literature as captivating today as when it was first published more than a half century ago.

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Katherine Anne Porter, including rare photos from the University of Maryland Libraries.”

Katherine Anne Porter

Good Luck, readers!

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Trials and Tribulations of the Writing Life

I have been watching with some resentment, not to say a gimlet eye, a book (one of three in a series) that I wrote in 2002 as “work for hire” (for a flat fee, no royalties) perform rather well on Amazon. The title is Garden Psalms and it has been out of print for some years. It is a full color beautifully illustrated “devotional” with a ribbon marker, and it did well in stores for Honor Books when it was published. But Honor has been bought and sold several times since then and I don’t know who has the publishing rights (or I’d try to buy them).

Currently it is selling on the used book market for as little as a penny to as much as $25 in some cases and has received rave reviews. This is an old “gifty” book, but very beautiful and comforting to read, which accounts for its continuing popularity.garden psalms

Every penny the re-sellers make from the book goes straight to their pockets.

My distress and frustration over this is just another instance of a writer doing what she has to do to make ends meet early in her career. No, I wasn’t offered any royalties, but it was a nice chunk of change when I needed it and I took the work gratefully. What galls me today is that I was a nobody when I wrote it, but since then have built a writing career and small reputation, and so now the re-sellers are capitalizing on it, for what it’s worth, and using my name with the book. Ironically, the original publishers did not want to use my name with it at all!

If there is a moral to this story, a lesson to be learned, it’s to avoid “work for hire agreements” like the plague. Always try to wheedle some small royalty out of the publisher in any agreement and guard your publishing rights like gold. Books have very long lives and you never know when there will be a resurgence in value in any given book.

My only recourse today would be to purchase the rights from the current rights holder, but he/she has disappeared and the book is still out of print!

Perhaps I shouldn’t be resentful of this, but my name is in headlights over it as author, making hay of the fact that since I wrote that particular book, I went on to write and publish several more, some very well reviewed.

That’s life, I guess, though I still will keep an eye out for the current rights holder to my “psalms” books written so long ago 🙂 I’d love to reissue them in updated versions with new covers.

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Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

Where have I been? What have I been doing? Working!

Some of you may know that I run a professional editorial and writing business Margaret Langstaff Editorial.

Well, lately I’ve been swamped with book and poetry manuscripts to copy edit, been acting as a writing coach and turning out ghostwriting projects (books from scratch). Can’t complain; it helps pay the bills and I truly enjoy working with writers. They are my kind of people! But in the past several weeks my schedule has been tight what with getting all those mss. shining bright and ready for publication, and other activities, like blogging, have taken the back seat, pushed  aside for the time being.

between you and me   The title of this blog, as a matter of fact, has been borrowed from a book by Mary Norris, long time copy editor at the New Yorker. If you think this is a dull profession–and even if you don’t–I encourage you to pick up a copy of her witty, erudite chronicles of her years there editing all the big names that wend their way through the magazine. Yes, there are actually many laugh out loud moments when she has to deal with the ticklish sometimes prickly egos of those writers, and much behind the scenes New Yorker lore. Who would have thought a book on copy editing could be a gas? It is!

So for the time being I’m going to have to beg your patience as the editing and writing projects keep trickling in. It won’t always be this way for there is an ebb and flow to this work.

But while we’re on the subject, if you’ve got an editing or writing gig to assign be sure to think of me. Check out my website (see above, there’s a contact form on the website). It gives a complete overview of my services and charges– and the marvelous testimonials I’ve received from my previous clients say it all:)

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“Hope Is the Thing with Feathers”

The following famous Emily Dickinson poem is apropos for any author concluding the arduous process of writing a book (as in your truly). A certain amount of apprehension always attends these times, apprehension in particular that the book will find appreciative readers (after all that work) and receive its fair share of appreciative reviews. One does all one can do and then has to let go allowing the book to meet its fate with the reading public.

I am still a few months away from publication, but I offer this classic Dickinson poem to the thousands of others who have been in this situation and walked in my shoes!


“Hope” is the thing with feathers —

That perches in the soul —

And sings the tunes without the words —

And never stops — at all —

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —

And sore must be the storm —

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard it the chillest land —

And on the strangest Sea —

Yet never in extremity,

It asked a crumb — of Me.


Emily Dickinson Archive

[I still cannot master stanza breaks on WordPress. The poem is actually written in three quatrains!]

Posted in American Literature, Emily Dickinson Poetry | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

The Pain and Perils of Revision

I just “finished” a book I’d been working on for nearly a year. Every writer will understand why I put the word finished in quotes, because, truly, it is never really finished until it is published, is it? The manuscript just sits and smolders with possibilities for re-phrasing, scene enhancement, better character development, and won’t let you go until it heads out the door for publication.

The annals of literature are full of great authors who compulsively revised until the very last minute, so we are in good company, but it doesn’t dispel that vague unease one has that the book could be made “better” with a few more well-placed last minute tweaks.

For me this is the most difficult stage of the writing process, in no way akin to the rush and thrill of writing first and even second drafts. I have a few more months left to continue to torture myself with “tweaks” and slight improvements–and who knows? The book may actually profit from them.

At the very least I’ll know I did all I could, gave it my best shot. Oh, that it were over and done with, but it won’t be until I simply run out of time 🙂

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Letter G The April A to Z Challenge #AtoZChallenge

Was shocked and surprised to see this today. Thank you, Rosie!

Rosie Amber

Day 7 of the April A to Z challenge and you are joining me for my book character them, plus some audience participation below.

Letter G is for Garnet Sullivan in The Devil, The Diva and The Deep Blue Sea by Margaret Jean Langstaff


The Devil, The Diva and The Deep Blue Sea is a Garnet Sullivan mystery set in and around Punta Bella in Florida. It’s a high-speed explosion of words and action as Garnet tries to uncover the story behind two local murders.

Garnet is a reporter for The Indian River Times and has a nose for a tale as good as her very own dog Ringo, who is joined by Diesel after the demise of his owner. She shares her town house of dogs with the love of her life, people’s attorney Chester Dare who is currently defending an innocent grounds-man accused of the death of a…

View original post 233 more words

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In like a Lion, Out like a Lamb

Readers of this blog will know I’m a life long Emily Dickinson fanatic and have studied and written about her for years.

In this messy business we call early spring, it seems I never fail to recollect her many poems on the month of March. The transitions in nature during this month fascinated her all her life. Her collected poems contain no less than six poems on March written many years apart. It was a subject she came back to again and again.

March is a difficult month, typically cold and wet in the first half of it, and only reluctantly and slowly bringing warmer temperatures and the rebirth of life in its last weeks. It’s a month of extremes and heralds the elision to spring, something we all anticipate wherever we are. It always seems to be a difficult birth.

Noting our wild temperature and weather variations in North Florida lately inspired me to share a few of these poems with you. Not her greatest poems, by a long shot, but apt and memorable.


March is the Month of Expectation.

The things we do not know —

The Persons of prognostication

Are coming now —

We try to show becoming firmness —

But pompous Joy

Betrays us, as his first Betrothal

Betrays a Boy.


We like March.

His shoes are Purple–

He is new and high–

Makes he Mud for Dog and Peddler,

Makes he Forests dry.

Knows the Adder Tongue his coming

And presents her Spot–

Stands the Sun so close and mighty

That our Minds are hot.

News is he of all the others–

Bold it were to die

With the Blue Birds buccaneering

On his British Sky.

As one who lives close to the natural world on a small farm next to a large woods, I can attest to her accuracy in these poems. Her mention of the adder is right on, too.  This time of year the snakes wake up, and having forgotten who lives where during their long winter sleep, often surprise me in my yard and even on my doorstep. Creeps! Watch where you step, Margaret.

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Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writing

Stephen KingAs you know I in the habit of publishing “writing rules” from various well-known writers as I stumble over them on the web. They won’t write your books for you, but they are food for thought.

For what it’s worth here are Stephen King’s. They are more discursive that some, but contain some pearls.

Happy writing!

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”

3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”

6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”

7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”

10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.”

12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”

14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”

15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”

16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”

18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

This list was posted on Open Culture (http://www.openculture.com) on March 16th, 2014.

Posted in American Literature, writing | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Everyone Needs a Good Editor


Most of you here know me as an author and book raconteur, but the bulk of my time is spent editing other people’s books.

I’ve been doing this professionally for over twenty years and find it very gratifying to help an author make the book the best it can be. The quality of manuscripts I get for editing varies widely, but usually if there is a kernel of a good plot and a few compelling characters, it can be transformed with tweaking, content editing and copy editing into something that shines and sings, that is, a winner.

Savvy, market-smart authors, particularly the best writers, recognize the high value a good edit imparts to their books, a value that often translates to increased recognition and sales. They wouldn’t dream of foregoing a professional edit for they know they cannot catch  everything, they are too close to it, and really dumb errors will be invisible to them after working on a manuscript for a length of time. And those errors will wind up, to their great embarrassment, in the published book, significantly detracting from the positive impression the author wants to make.

Novice writers, on the other hand,  in their rush to publish and urge to skimp, often skip this critical editing step and, sadly, reap what they sow: poor reviews and poor sales. Readers are an unforgiving lot; today they will not tolerate a poorly edited book. They call you out on them in many cases in reviews, blog posts and Face Book, compounding the problem and spreading the bad news.

A professional edit protects you from this potential public ridicule and increases exponentially the chances of your book in the marketplace. Don’t skimp on it, consider it insurance against a natural disaster endangering the life of your beloved book you’ve worked so hard on.

To reach me with editing queries, email margaret@margaretlangstaffeditorial.com or visit my site Margaret Langstaff Editorial for additional information

Posted in book marketing, Literature | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Writing Rules: Avoid the Hoopdedoodle

elmoreElmore Leonard, the modern master of the “low life” detective story and mystery, was one of my favorite contemporary writers and when he died a few years ago I felt a personal loss of a very unique, important voice on matters literary.  Most will know him from the great movies made from his books, like “Get Shorty” (John Travolta) and “The 3:10 to Yuma” (Russell Crowe).

The strong points of his books were distinctive unforgettable characters and drop dead dialog. Elmore could do more with dialog than most writers could with their whole bag of tricks.  It’s a gift, but one that can be cultivated if you pay close attention to how people really speak and render that in your fiction accurately.

Anyway, a passing reference to Leonard in a column recently brought to mind how much I truly owe him, for he taught me so much by example and made a huge difference in my own writing.

He had a word for all the extraneous frippery some novice writers load into their books: hoopededoodle. It should be avoided at all costs. It is death to a work of fiction.

At one point in his life not too long ago at the pestering of understudies, he put together his “10 Rules of Writing,” showing how to do this, which I share with you here for your own edification:)

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

“My most important rule is one that sums up the 10,” he wrote. “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

Nuff said.

For a more in depth look at the rules of the road a la Leonard, check out this NYT article
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/entertainment/movies/Elmore-Leonards-10-Rules-of-Good-Writing.html#hIatAzrZwYJqmdt8.99

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Best American Novels? from The American Scholar

[Something to argue about.]

One Hundred Best American Novels, 1770 to 1985 (a Draft)

A reading enthusiast’s list

By David Handlin

About a year ago I put an end to my indiscriminate reading habits. I resolved to read, at least for the time being, only American novels. But I quickly understood that, even within that limited scope, I could be almost as indiscriminate as before. Therefore, to give my reading purpose and focus, I decided to make a project of it. I would compile a list of the 100 Best American Novels, 1770–1985.

A month into this exercise, I suddenly understood what I was doing. I was filling some of the gaps in my undergraduate education. Since college I have been a devoted reader, but for almost five decades my primary focus has been architecture—studying it, teaching it, writing about it, and practicing it.

I write, then, as an enthusiast, not as a scholar. I know something of the difference. I took courses with two preeminent scholars of American literature, Perry Miller and Alan Heimert. Perhaps more consequentially, I was fortunate to be considered a friend by the late Michael Davitt Bell, one of the major scholars of American literature of his generation. While compiling this list I reread his books, filled with wisdom and humor, and was delighted to discover that in 1975 he edited and wrote the introduction to an edition of the improbably titled Father Bombo’s Pilgrimage to Mecca (1770), the first American novel. I see Bell smiling now at the preposterous nature of my undertaking, while also urging me on and wanting to join in.

Since I can already hear your questions and even protests, I will address them by following my list with a brief discussion of each of the words in my title. (I have rendered in bold the 10 novels I like best.) ….

[Read the rest (and the list) at The American Scholar]

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Music to My Ears

After three years my MARLIN, DARLIN keeps on garnering great reviews. The latest —

5.0 out of 5 stars Thrills, Chills, rofl, Realism, and Just Plain Good Writin’!, February 8, 2015
This review is from: Marlin, Darlin’: Garnet Sullivan Live from Florida (Kindle Edition)

As a journalist myself…early in my career…I have to first point out, “It really is like Langstaff describes it–the wit, the sarcasm, the backstabbing, the bickering! Kinda’ like siblings. By the same token, ‘they’ can slam’ya, but no one else better try it. Unless they’re busy, of course…”

“Marlin, Darlin'” has it all. Fast-packed action, great storytelling, humor, mystery…Did I mention the dead body hooked to a fish? Well, part of him…

Lush, beautiful descriptions of Florida and other picturesque scenes and the icky stuff as well, but realism is realism. Can’t have one without the t’other…

This review is not like me. I’m not usually so tongue-in-cheek, but ya’ just can’t help it after reading “Marlin Darlin'”. I even sound like a southerner. Yeah, I’m from the southern part of Cleveland.

Margaret Jean Langstaff is delicious! No spoilers–just read it! The whole series. You’re gonna love Sullivan and Chester and the rest of the cast of characters…emphasis on “character” and not in the refined sense.

There are some books you gulp and some books you savor. You’ll be gulping till the final page and then beg for more. Thank goodness it’s a series. Whew! Don’t forget to breathe!



Posted in Book Reviews, Literature | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

There’s Something About a Man in Uniform

soldierThis is off topic for this literary blog (unless I try to tie it to the many fine novels written about the travails of the military in wartime, which I won’t.).  But I observed an incident at the checkout at the grocery store yesterday I’m burning to share.

It was one of those all too rare personal interactions showing respect and appreciation for our men in uniform and it brought tears to my eyes.

A young man in Army combat fatigues with his young son in tow was ahead of me in the checkout line. He had just a handful of items and his darling kid was brandishing a cold Dr. Pepper. When it came time to pay, the soldier realized he left his wallet in the car, so he told the cashier to hold his stuff while he ran outside to get it.

As he and his son dashed out the door, the woman who had been ahead of him and had just finished making her purchase observed all of this.  When she did, and after he was out the door, she came back and gave the cashier a ten to pay for the guy’s groceries, insisting she take it, even though she could assume he had the funds to pay for them himself.

“No, really. I want to do this, take the money!  It’s the least I can do! Take it!”  The cashier was abashed–as was I–it was such an unlooked for gesture of generosity and appreciation, completely out of the blue, our jaws dropped. The woman then instantly disappeared after receiving her change, before the soldier returned, wanting no thanks or recognition whatsoever.

No sooner than she did, the soldier blew back through the door, his son tugging at his pants saying he sure hoped his Dr. Pepper was still there!

I let him go ahead of me, both the cashier and I blurting nonsensically to him at once about the “nice lady” who’d paid for his things. He looked off into the distance and frowned for a sec, then a smile a big as Texas spread across his face when he took the gesture as a compliment, the compliment that had been intended. Sonny boy hadn’t a clue about what was going on but was relieved to find his Dr. Pepper in the bag with the other things, including the paid receipt.  It was all too cute, but such a surprise as to seem surreal.

These things don’t happen every day, small gestures of anonymous appreciation that mean so much.

I choked up paying for my few things right after that and shuffled off to my car in a muddle of admiration for the thoughtful kind woman and personal heartache that I so rarely went out of my way to thank the men defending our freedom and way of life.

I should, and now will, do more.  All of us should, don’t you think?

Posted in Rants | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Writers, Is it a calling or a job? NYTBR

I don’t know how something can be both interesting and pedestrian at the same time. In this case it may be that it’s interesting that the New York Times Book Review has chosen to spotlight so pedestrian an essay about “Oh, wow, I’m a writer. What does that mean?”
The lack of a single original thought or metaphor makes it no less curious that the NYTBR devoted space and ink to it. Talk about dumbing down (a trend there).
An excerpt–
“Is Being a Writer a Job or a Calling?” by Benjamin Moser

Even the best writing won’t have the immediate, measurable impact of a doctor’s work, or a plumber.

When, in adolescent secrecy, I began making my way from reading to writing, the writers who attracted me, the writers I wanted to be, were those who conceived of the writer as a member of a priestly caste, those whose view of literature as a means of understanding the self and the world offered a noble possibility for my life. Those writers who touched me were those who had wanted, literally, to make something of themselves; and who offered me and others a means of understanding, and thus of elevating, our everyday lives.

Perhaps I was given to vocations — but vocations, as opposed to ambitions, were not much appreciated in high school; and, as when I returned from a week in a Benedictine monastery and knew not to mention how badly I had wanted to stay, I never mentioned the exalted idea I had been forming of writing. The earnestness, the vehemence the notion implied were so at odds with the surrounding ethos that it took me much longer to admit wanting to write than to admit wanting to sleep with men.
That teenage vision of Parnassus was followed by years of sitting at the computer, fighting off feelings of boredom with work and frustration with self, as visions of art were replaced by visions of picking up the dry cleaning. “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people,” Thomas Mann said; and it is good that no beginner suspects how torturous writing is, or how little it improves with practice, or how the real rejections come not from editors but from our own awareness of the gap yawning between measly talent and lofty vocation. Fear of that gap destroys writers: through the failure of purpose called writer’s block; through the crutches we use to carry us past it.

No young writer can know how rare inspiration is — or how, in its place, the real talent turns out to be sitting down, propelling oneself, day after day, through the self-doubt surrounding our nebulous enterprise, trying to believe, as when we began, that writing is important. Not to believe that literature — other people’s writing — is important. But to believe that our own writing, imperfect, unfinished, inevitably falling short, might matter to anyone else.

We never know if we are doing it right. Even the best writing will never have the immediate, measurable impact that a doctor’s work has, or a plumber’s. To discover if we are on the right track, we can, and do, become obsessed with our “careers,” which is the word we use for what other people think of us. And we secretly welcome the unanswered emails and unpaid royalties that beleaguer us as they do every working life — their whiff of bureaucracy making us feel part of the adult world. Because, hard as it is, writing rarely feels like a real job ….

Read the rest at “Is Being a Writer a Calling or a Job?”

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Oh, The Joys and Hardships of Revision!

As every serious writer knows, a good book has to be assiduously and meticulously revised to reach a satisfactory (if not “perfect”) state before publication.  After the initial flush of inspiration, one must go back over the text word by word, line by line, to make sure the writer has effectively said what he or she meant to say.

This process can be by turns fun and infuriating and laborious. But it simply cannot be skipped or the resultant manuscript is doomed to be malformed dreck.  You can bet on it.

I thought the writers here would appreciate some vivid examples of just how hard our very best authors worked the revision thing. It’s gratifying to know we are not alone, but in excellent company!

proustProust’s maniacal revisions of Remembrance of Things Past

jane austenSome of Jane Austen’s own edits of Persuasion

great expectations msCharles Dickens’ revisions of first paragraph of Great Expectations

So take heart, writers, nobody ever said writing great prose was easy or dropped like ripe apples fully formed and polished from the pen or keyboard. Hang in there and re-work it until it sings!

For an affordable professional humdinger edit, something I’ve been doing for over 25 years, contact me through Margaret Langstaff Editorial.

Posted in fiction, Literature, novel, writing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

This Emily Dickinson poem is for our friends in the Northeast tonight– we hope they are warm!


It sifts from leaden sieves —

It powders all the Wood.

It fills with Alabaster Wool

The Wrinkles of the Road —

It makes an Even Face

Of Mountain, and of Plain —

Unbroken Forehead from the East

Unto the East again —

It reaches to the Fence —

It wraps it Rail by Rail

Till it is lost in Fleeces —

It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack — and Stem —

A Summer’s empty Room —

Acres of Joints where Harvests were,

Recordless, but for them —

It ruffles Wrists of Posts

As Ankles of a Queen —

Then stills its Artisans — like Ghosts —

Denying they have been —

c. 1862 #311


[all poems of Dickinson that I post here are from Thomas Johnson’s monumental THE COMPLETE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON, 1952, Little, Brown, which restored her original (be it unusual) spelling, capitalization and punctuation]

NOTE: WordPress makes it almost impossible to replicate stanza breaks in poetry. This poem was written in quatrains ( four line stanzas) but I can’t get WP to allow me to represent it correctly.

Posted in Emily Dickinson Poetry, poetry | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

This year’s National Poetry Month poster

National Poetry Month (is this an organization, an alliance or what?)  in this great land of ours is April and “it” has just released its annual poster which is rather cute.

national poetry month poster

Posted in poetry | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Free Books! Not Many, But Good Ones

[Also posted as separate page on the blog]

Review Copies

Each month I’ve informally off the record given away review copies of my books, usually three to five a month, to my followers with the understanding these eager readers will post an honest and, more or less (haha), intelligent review on Amazon and Goodreads of the book after finishing it . I’ve decided to formalize this a bit, because it’s easy for me to lose track of who’s reading what and where to look for new reviews. My nascent sense of fairness is at work here too.  Everyone who’s interested ought to have a fair chance, right?
Take a look at the “Books and Publications” page on my blog, and if something strikes your fancy and you would like a gratis copy, leave me a comment at the bottom of the page. (Mention the title!) and that will put you in line for the next first of the month “book drop,” on a first come first served basis. The rules and regs of this largess may change slightly from time to time, but will remain basically the same.  I’ve got a great legion of avid readers following the blog and appreciate your company and conversations immensely. I hope you like the idea and take advantage of it. I love to hear from my readers.
BTW these will be e-books formatted for Kindle. Shipping costs for paperbacks make giving them away prohibitive. Also look for a new Garnet Sullivan Live from Florida mystery in coming months.  It’s tentatively titled FROND MEMORIES and features (egad!) SHARKS, both human and marine. So simple as that, want a free review copy, add your name and the title below. And happy reading!
PS–most of the books have received raves, so they are a fair bet at no cost to you.
PPS-If you’d rather send me a private email about reserving review copies, shoot it off to:  margaret@margaretlangstaffeditorial.com
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The Rigours of Publishing

I don’t know where this came from and I’d like to credit the source but can’t. Found it on Amazon.UK and had to pass it along.  The Big Ouch all writers go through countless times.  Get used to it. One has to or perish. Just keep on truckin.

will you publish my ss

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Harsh Truths About Writing from Some Writing Legends

Writers, if you are struggling, you are not alone. It’s the typical state of mind for a serious writer! I stumbled on this and thought it worth sharing here. No endorsements intended or implied. Just food for thought and a few reasons to smile.

From Thought Catalog

1. The first draft of everything is shit. -Ernest Hemingway

2. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass. -David Ogilvy

3. If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. – Dorothy Parker

4. Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home. -Paul Theroux

5. I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. — Harper Lee

6. You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. ― Jack London

7. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. — George Orwell

8. There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ― W. Somerset Maugham

9. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

10. Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. – Neil Gaiman

11. Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die. – Anne Enright

12. If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser

13. Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. – Kurt Vonnegut

14. Prose is architecture, not interior decoration. – Ernest Hemingway

15. Write drunk, edit sober. – Ernest Hemingway

16. Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly. – Joshua Wolf Shenk

17. Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain

18. Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you. ― Neil Gaiman

19. Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. – Oscar Wilde

20. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ― Ray Bradbury

21. Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman

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Apply for English Department Scholarships! (deadline February 15th, 2015)

The Underground

The English department invites applications for two scholarships available to English majors: the Ellin M. Kelly, Ph. D. Endowed British Literature Award ($1200) and the Honors English scholarship ($2300). Each scholarship has different requirements.

See below for details on each scholarship and go here for application and details!

To be eligible for either of these scholarships, students must:

  • be declared English majors at sophomore level or higher.
  • have completed at least two quarters at DePaul.
  • have completed at least three English courses with a minimum GPA of 3.5 in those courses.
  • plan to register in at least two courses in Spring 2015.

Ellin M. Kelly, Ph. D. Endowed British Literature Award, $1200

The Kelly Endowed British Literature Award recognizes the academic achievement of students who have demonstrated their dedication to the study of British literature. Preference will be given to candidates with a strong interest in Medieval Literature and/or…

View original post 221 more words

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Marlin, Darlin’ by Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lovely review of my book by a lovely lady, Rosie Amber, on her famous book blog! Thank you, Rosie!

Rosie Amber

Marlin, Darlin': Garnet Sullivan Live from Florida #1Marlin, Darlin’: Garnet Sullivan Live from Florida #1 by Margaret Jean Langstaff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marlin, Darlin’ is a very well written and fun mystery set in Florida. Garnett Sullivan earns her living as a reporter and a part-time evening class teacher. There’s been an ugly accident at the local Marlin fishing tournament. A wealthy businessman went overboard and later his body was washed up and his boat impounded for evidence.

Squabbling over reporter rites with fellow newsman Randy Trigg, the pair follow up several suspicious leads. Ducking and diving with local police officer Lance Dawtry for inside information Garnett also has cause to suspect student Jim Walker of illegal dealings when he disappears with her car for several days.

Meanwhile a crazy old bird Mrs Bettina Bassett is arrested for the bale of grass on her back seat and Allison Highsmith is pressuring Garnett to help…

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Cold? “The Snowman” by Wallace Stevens – that’s cold

The Snow Man


One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.


Stevens is one of my favorite poets. Having just experienced one of the worst intervals of hard freezes and wind chills in the teens on our little farm in N. Florida just recently, I feel motivated to post this remarkable poem now.  We were absolutely bludgeoned by the cold. I feared for the animals’ lives. Most plants died and I didn’t hear a bird for four days.  Unheard of! But we survived, if barely. We are terribly ill-equipped for this kind of unusual weather. It’s not normal in our “climate.”

The last line of the poem is a humdinger.  After the last week, I must say, I really get this poem.

To find out more about this remarkable American poet whose reputation grows exponentially every year, I strongly encourage you to click on the link at the top or this one Wallace Stevens.

wallace_stevens 1

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Tradition and the Individual Talent – T.S.Eliot

[This is in  a sense a public service announcement of sorts, a refresher, if you will, for poets and would be poets of all stripes among us.  Eliot’s erudition is bullet proof.  If you don’t study the masters, you will not develop the originality and formal ballast to get very far with poetry as an art form;) This may seem overwhelming and too long for a blog post, but the insights you will gain if you persist, poets, are eminently worth it. BTW, bold type is my effort to help you follow the text:)]


T.S. Eliot (1888–1965).  from the The Sacred Wood.  1921.
Tradition and the Individual Talent

IN English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence. We cannot refer to “the tradition” or to “a tradition”; at most, we employ the adjective in saying that the poetry of So-and-so is “traditional” or even “too traditional.” Seldom, perhaps, does the word appear except in a phrase of censure. If otherwise, it is vaguely approbative, with the implication, as to the work approved, of some pleasing archæological reconstruction. You can hardly make the word agreeable to English ears without this comfortable reference to the reassuring science of archæology.

  Certainly the word is not likely to appear in our appreciations of living or dead writers. Every nation, every race, has not only its own creative, but its own critical turn of mind; and is even more oblivious of the shortcomings and limitations of its critical habits than of those of its creative genius. We know, or think we know, from the enormous mass of critical writing that has appeared in the French language the critical method or habit of the French; we only conclude (we are such unconscious people) that the French are “more critical” than we, and sometimes even plume ourselves a little with the fact, as if the French were the less spontaneous. Perhaps they are; but we might remind ourselves that criticism is as inevitable as breathing, and that we should be none the worse for articulating what passes in our minds when we read a book and feel an emotion about it, for criticizing our own minds in their work of criticism. One of the facts that might come to light in this process is our tendency to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects of his work in which he least resembles anyone else. In these aspects or parts of his work we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavour to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously. And I do not mean the impressionable period of adolescence, but the period of full maturity.   2
  Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, “tradition” should positively be discouraged. We have seen many such simple currents soon lost in the sand; and novelty is better than repetition. Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.   3
  No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of æsthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature, will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities.   4
  In a peculiar sense he will be aware also that he must inevitably be judged by the standards of the past. I say judged, not amputated, by them; not judged to be as good as, or worse or better than, the dead; and certainly not judged by the canons of dead critics. It is a judgment, a comparison, in which two things are measured by each other. To conform merely would be for the new work not really to conform at all; it would not be new, and would therefore not be a work of art. And we do not quite say that the new is more valuable because it fits in; but its fitting in is a test of its value—a test, it is true, which can only be slowly and cautiously applied, for we are none of us infallible judges of conformity. We say: it appears to conform, and is perhaps individual, or it appears individual, and may conform; but we are hardly likely to find that it is one and not the other.   5
  To proceed to a more intelligible exposition of the relation of the poet to the past: he can neither take the past as a lump, an indiscriminate bolus, nor can he form himself wholly on one or two private admirations, nor can he form himself wholly upon one preferred period. The first course is inadmissible, the second is an important experience of youth, and the third is a pleasant and highly desirable supplement. The poet must be very conscious of the main current, which does not at all flow invariably through the most distinguished reputations. He must be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same. He must be aware that the mind of Europe—the mind of his own country—a mind which he learns in time to be much more important than his own private mind—is a mind which changes, and that this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawing of the Magdalenian draughtsmen. That this development, refinement perhaps, complication certainly, is not, from the point of view of the artist, any improvement. Perhaps not even an improvement from the point of view of the psychologist or not to the extent which we imagine; perhaps only in the end based upon a complication in economics and machinery. But the difference between the present and the past is that the conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past’s awareness of itself cannot show.   6
 eliot2 Some one said: “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.” Precisely, and they are that which we know.   7
  I am alive to a usual objection to what is clearly part of my programme for the métier of poetry. The objection is that the doctrine requires a ridiculous amount of erudition (pedantry), a claim which can be rejected by appeal to the lives of poets in any pantheon. It will even be affirmed that much learning deadens or perverts poetic sensibility. While, however, we persist in believing that a poet ought to know as much as will not encroach upon his necessary receptivity and necessary laziness, it is not desirable to confine knowledge to whatever can be put into a useful shape for examinations, drawing-rooms, or the still more pretentious modes of publicity. Some can absorb knowledge, the more tardy must sweat for it. Shakespeare acquired more essential history from Plutarch than most men could from the whole British Museum. What is to be insisted upon is that the poet must develop or procure the consciousness of the past and that he should continue to develop this consciousness throughout his career.   8
  What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.   9
  There remains to define this process of depersonalization and its relation to the sense of tradition. It is in this depersonalization that art may be said to approach the condition of science. I shall, therefore, invite you to consider, as a suggestive analogy, the action which takes place when a bit of finely filiated platinum is introduced into a chamber containing oxygen and sulphur dioxide.   10

Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry. If we attend to the confused cries of the newspaper critics and the susurrus of popular repetition that follows, we shall hear the names of poets in great numbers; if we seek not Blue-book knowledge but the enjoyment of poetry, and ask for a poem, we shall seldom find it. In the last article I tried to point out the importance of the relation of the poem to other poems by other authors, and suggested the conception of poetry as a living whole of all the poetry that has ever been written. The other aspect of this Impersonal theory of poetry is the relation of the poem to its author. And I hinted, by an analogy, that the mind of the mature poet differs from that of the immature one not precisely in any valuation of “personality,” not being necessarily more interesting, or having “more to say,” but rather by being a more finely perfected medium in which special, or very varied, feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations.

  The analogy was that of the catalyst. When the two gases previously mentioned are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum. It may partly or exclusively operate upon the experience of the man himself; but, the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material.   12
  The experience, you will notice, the elements which enter the presence of the transforming catalyst, are of two kinds: emotions and feelings. The effect of a work of art upon the person who enjoys it is an experience different in kind from any experience not of art. It may be formed out of one emotion, or may be a combination of several; and various feelings, inhering for the writer in particular words or phrases or images, may be added to compose the final result. Or great poetry may be made without the direct use of any emotion whatever: composed out of feelings solely. Canto XV of the Inferno (Brunetto Latini) is a working up of the emotion evident in the situation; but the effect, though single as that of any work of art, is obtained by considerable complexity of detail. The last quatrain gives an image, a feeling attaching to an image, which “came,” which did not develop simply out of what precedes, but which was probably in suspension in the poet’s mind until the proper combination arrived for it to add itself to. The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.   13
  If you compare several representative passages of the greatest poetry you see how great is the variety of types of combination, and also how completely any semi-ethical criterion of “sublimity” misses the mark. For it is not the “greatness,” the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the fusion takes place, that counts. The episode of Paolo and Francesca employs a definite emotion, but the intensity of the poetry is something quite different from whatever intensity in the supposed experience it may give the impression of. It is no more intense, furthermore, than Canto XXVI, the voyage of Ulysses, which has not the direct dependence upon an emotion. Great variety is possible in the process of transmution of emotion: the murder of Agamemnon, or the agony of Othello, gives an artistic effect apparently closer to a possible original than the scenes from Dante. In the Agamemnon, the artistic emotion approximates to the emotion of an actual spectator; in Othello to the emotion of the protagonist himself. But the difference between art and the event is always absolute; the combination which is the murder of Agamemnon is probably as complex as that which is the voyage of Ulysses. In either case there has been a fusion of elements. The ode of Keats contains a number of feelings which have nothing particular to do with the nightingale, but which the nightingale, partly, perhaps, because of its attractive name, and partly because of its reputation, served to bring together.   14
  The point of view which I am struggling to attack is perhaps related to the metaphysical theory of the substantial unity of the soul: for my meaning is, that the poet has, not a “personality” to express, but a particular medium, which is only a medium and not a personality, in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways. Impressions and experiences which are important for the man may take no place in the poetry, and those which become important in the poetry may play quite a negligible part in the man, the personality.   15
  I will quote a passage which is unfamiliar enough to be regarded with fresh attention in the light—or darkness—of these observations:

And now methinks I could e’en chide myself
For doating on her beauty, though her death
Shall be revenged after no common action.
Does the silkworm expend her yellow labours
For thee? For thee does she undo herself?
Are lordships sold to maintain ladyships
For the poor benefit of a bewildering minute?
Why does yon fellow falsify highways,
And put his life between the judge’s lips,
To refine such a thing—keeps horse and men
To beat their valours for her?…

In this passage (as is evident if it is taken in its context) there is a combination of positive and negative emotions: an intensely strong attraction toward beauty and an equally intense fascination by the ugliness which is contrasted with it and which destroys it. This balance of contrasted emotion is in the dramatic situation to which the speech is pertinent, but that situation alone is inadequate to it. This is, so to speak, the structural emotion, provided by the drama. But the whole effect, the dominant tone, is due to the fact that a number of floating feelings, having an affinity to this emotion by no means superficially evident, have combined with it to give us a new art emotion.

  It is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or flat. The emotion in his poetry will be a very complex thing, but not with the complexity of the emotions of people who have very complex or unusual emotions in life. One error, in fact, of eccentricity in poetry is to seek for new human emotions to express; and in this search for novelty in the wrong place it discovers the perverse. The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all. And emotions which he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those familiar to him. Consequently, we must believe that “emotion recollected in tranquillity” is an inexact formula. For it is neither emotion, nor recollection, nor, without distortion of meaning, tranquillity. It is a concentration, and a new thing resulting from the concentration, of a very great number of experiences which to the practical and active person would not seem to be experiences at all; it is a concentration which does not happen consciously or of deliberation. These experiences are not “recollected,” and they finally unite in an atmosphere which is “tranquil” only in that it is a passive attending upon the event. Of course this is not quite the whole story. There is a great deal, in the writing of poetry, which must be conscious and deliberate. In fact, the bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make him “personal.” Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.   17


This essay proposes to halt at the frontier of metaphysics or mysticism, and confine itself to such practical conclusions as can be applied by the responsible person interested in poetry. To divert interest from the poet to the poetry is a laudable aim: for it would conduce to a juster estimation of actual poetry, good and bad. There are many people who appreciate the expression of sincere emotion in verse, and there is a smaller number of people who can appreciate technical excellence. But very few know when there is expression of significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet. The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living.

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The Soul Selects Her Own Society – Emily Dickinson

emily sig

(c) 2014 Margaret Langstaff, All Rights Reserved

I recently had the rare and arduous experience of re-reading for the umpteenth time all of Emily Dickinson‘s 1,775 surviving “poems”–but this time straight through over a period of two weeks. I’m working on a couple of Dickinson books and thought it would be a good exercise, a refresher.

Strangely, this was not the ecstatic, enjoyable experience I had anticipated.  The words of a prof, which I had rejected outright when I heard them many years ago, came back to me as I plowed through almost 800 pages of the Thomas H. Johnson edition (1952) of her poems (the one scholars accept as textually accurate today). This blasphemous–to my way of thinking–university professor  (whom I otherwise admired) said something to the effect that she was an intensely private poet, did not write for publication and that most of the verses discovered in her cherry bureau by her sister after she died were “slight” personal jottings to herself, not properly poetry as we think of poetry today.  They were jottings, drafts, written on the fly as the occasion moved her,

His statement outraged me at the time for I was at the time totally in the thrall of all things Emily in grad school. A travesty! I thought. How obtuse.  I even labeled him a misogynist, I think, an au currant out of hand trite dismissal of the time suitable for any sharp critic of a woman writer.

But at this stage with so much reading and study behind me, I have to say I now agree with him–up to a point.

After early rejection by the editor of the Atlantic and a few other self-important types, Dickinson did indeed retreat into her own private world and wrote much more casually and less formally, and this lesser verse is often so private as to be cryptic and half-baked, albeit studded occasionally with startling imagery and turns of phrase that stick out like rubies and diamonds in a sea of mud (or muddled thinking).

This poem seems to refer to her growing sense of isolation and hopelessness at ever being properly published:

The Soul selects her own Society–

Then — shuts the Door —

To her divine Majority —

Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —

At her low Gate —

Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling

Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —

Choose One —

Then — close the Valves of her attention —

Like Stone —


When read straight through without the selectivity and aid of a cagey English prof pointing out the gems from the sludge, one must come to the inescapable conclusion that Dickinson, after a certain point and overwhelming disappointment, usually wrote in haste, and revised and polished only a smidgen of her verse into the lustrous, luminous poetry that we all read today.  That is, she rarely finished it with a sense of studied craft and with an eye to posterity’s opinion.

If there were ever a case for a writer burning their reams of rot not intended for readers’ eyes before he or she died, Dickinson’s spotty legacy makes it startlingly and memorably.  She apparently didn’t care, after a certain point, however.  She simply scribbled and stuffed the random odd shaped pieces of paper or backs of envelopes with her momentary emotional effusions into her bottom dresser drawer.  And there they accumulated in dark silence, unread, for fifty plus years.

Sadly for us, literary appreciation and fame were ambitions she deliberately discarded early on. Nobody “got” her, most thought she was an old maid oddball and her personality was not forceful enough to persist in the face of these obstacles.  To hell with them she concluded, apparently.  She stopped approaching editors and wrote for herself and family exclusively after a certain point. She even developed her own sour grapes attitude about the whole issue of being totally ignored as a poet in her life time:

Publication — is the Auction

Of the Mind of Man —

Poverty — be justifying

For so foul a thing

Possibly — but We — would rather

From our Garret go

White — Unto the White Creator —

Than invest — our Snow —

…. c.1862

Or, in an even more telling poem:

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you — Nobody — Too?

Then there’s a pair of us?

Don’t tell! they’d advertise — you know!

How dreary — to be — Somebody!

How public — like a Frog —

To tell one’s name — the livelong June —

To an admiring Bog!

c. 1861

This does not diminish in anyway the perhaps five hundred totally original unforgettable poems she polished, revised, revised and revised one wit.  They remain crown jewels of American Literature.  But it does add a wrenching poignancy to her life as a poet, alone, unread, nearly silenced for lack of recognition.

One cannot help but wonder what she might have produced, a much larger and more substantial body of work surely, if only she had received some encouragement, support and a modicum of recognition.

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Now That’s a BOOK!


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“Authors are Upset at Amazon. Again.” — New York Times

[In a surprisingly candid and forceful piece the NYT 12/27/14 covers the widespread  Kindle author rage at Amazon’s latest bells and whistles–“enhancements” which cost ’em big bucks. Some best-selling authors have seen income drop by as much as 75%—]

Brief excerpt below; read the rest at Amazon Offers All-You-Can-Eat Books. Authors Turn Up Their Noses


Authors are upset with Amazon. Again.

For much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.

Now self-published writers, who owe much of their audience to the retailer’s publishing platform, are unhappy.

One problem is too much competition. But a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books — both self-published and traditionally published — for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less. And in interviews and online forums, they have voiced their complaints.

“Six months ago people were quitting their day job, convinced they could make a career out of writing,” said Bob Mayer, an e-book consultant and publisher who has written 50 books. “Now people are having to go back to that job or are scraping to get by.  That’s how quickly things have changed.” …. 

To read the rest, see link above.

Amazing the drastic fall-off some authors have seen since the introduction (per force) of Kindle Unlimited.  Interesting, pertinent article for anyone who publishes e-books.

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Wishing you abundant Christmas blessings–and lots of great books!

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Are You a Writer? Most of the Followers of This Blog Are…

why does my book not sell I am too, have been for nearly 30 years.  I also own a Writing and Editorial Consultancy firm, Margaret Langstaff Editorial. I work every day with writers trying to make their books better before publication.

But even the best book in the world, one people really would like to read, fails in the marketplace if it receives poor promotion.  This fact of life is true for both conventionally published books and self-published books.

Publishers make a lot of marketing promises to get you to sign a contract and all too often fail to perform once you do.  If you are self-published, you are even more vulnerable.  For if your self-published book is not marketed properly it does not have a chance at all.  And what do most self-published writers know about book marketing?

Almost nothing.

Look at Twitter, look at Facebook. It’s pathetic how many writers shoot themselves in the foot every day all day long. Turn off potential readers, dig themselves ever deeper into a hole of oblivion.

Someone in the biz urged this book on me, said it would help my clients.  Well, I’m all for that!  But I was skeptical.  There is so much half-baked garbage out there by self-styled experts, I usually turn a deaf ear. So I wasn’t expecting much.  But she delivers. I was surprised.

I’m not going to write a full blown review of WHY DOES MY BOOK NOT SELL? 20 Simple Fixes by Rayne Hall. There are plenty on Amazon.  Check those out. I’m just going to say she has the creds (publishing, marketing) and has earned her stripes. She’s practical, knows what works, what doesn’t, and she makes a lot of sense.

I recommend her book to any writer who wants a decent return on his or her investment. It’s not the last word, but it’s a great start, the best brief to the point guide I’ve yet seen.

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I don’t get it, but “toot-toot” anyway, book sots

Marlin DarlinI wrote this book more than four years ago, the first in a series of over the top, raucous Florida based mysteries featuring a red haired wild woman, Garnet Sullivan.  It was the first novel I wrote under my own name after having ghosted so many for so many other “authors.”  I meant it to be a literate entertainment; I was not aspiring in this instance to write another Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary.
Laughed my way through writing it.  Surprise! People laughed when they read it.  It was chosen a top Goodreads mystery the month it was published.  Surprise! It remains my most popular book.  Surprise! Great reviews keep trickling in.
I’m “reprinting” here the latest review, just in this morning, in the hopes some of you beloved book sots and followers of this blog will (Surprise!) buy it.
If you’re sick of Christmas carols at this point, want a lift from the fog of winter and would dig a cheap realistic Florida vacation with a bunch of nutcases, this is a real deal.  You will get sand between your toes and see, hear and smell the ocean in some entertaining company, guaranteed.
[Have I ever mentioned I write for a living?]
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun Florida based mystery, December 18, 2014
This review is from: Marlin, Darlin’: Garnet Sullivan Live from Florida (Kindle Edition)

Marlin, Darlin’ is a very well written and fun mystery set in Florida. Garnett Sullivan earns her living as a reporter and a part-time evening class teacher. There’s been an ugly accident at the local Marlin fishing tournament. A wealthy businessman went overboard and later his body was washed up and his boat impounded for evidence.

Squabbling over reporter rites with fellow newsman Randy Trigg, the pair follow up several suspicious leads. Ducking and diving with local police officer Lance Dawtry for inside information Garnett also has cause to suspect student Jim Walker of illegal dealings when he disappears with her car for several days.

Meanwhile a crazy old bird Mrs Bettina Bassett is arrested for the bale of grass on her back seat and Allison Highsmith is pressuring Garnett to help her out with a charity dog fundraiser. Just how much trouble can one delightful reporter get herself into?

I loved Garnett’s yellow VW Beetle and the warm sultry Florida background, filled with bugs and creatures as Garnett dashed after the clues. The characters were very well written and memorable, Dr Beidermeyer, Bettina even Randy and Lance, Definitely a book to cheer up the long winter nights.

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Emily Dickinson’s Encounters with the Sublime

edA certain slant of light today suggested to me this deserved a fresh look for “refreshment’s” sake. 

There’s a certain slant of light,
Winter Afternoons–
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes–

Heavenly Hurt it gives us–
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where the Meanings are–

None may teach it– Any–
‘Tis the Seal Despair–
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air–

When it comes, the Landscape listens–
Shadows– hold their breath–
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death–


Oh, winter.

Margaret Langstaff

© Copyright 2013, Margaret Langstaff, All Rights Reserved.


                    Nature and God – I neither knew

                   Yet Both so well knew me

                   They startled, like Executors

                   Of My identity.—E.D.

Dickinson wrote and sent this poem ("A Ro... Dickinson wrote and sent this poem (“A Route to Evanescence”) to Thomas Higginson in 1880. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve read, studied and written about Emily Dickinson’s poetry on and off for over thirty years, my serious interest and examination of it beginning long ago in graduate school and resulting in my master’s thesis. Like a dog with a good bone, though, I wouldn’t let it go even then and continued research and scholarly reading on Dickinson during the rest of my academic studies and when those days were finally over, I found it had become not only a matter of taste and fascination, but—for lack of a better word, a habit. One would think my…

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Rosie’s Book review Team #RBRT Noelle reviews Home For Christmas by Margaret Langstaff

What a lovely thing to receive in the morning’s mail! One of the best Christmas presents I could have received!

Rosie Amber

Today’s book review is from Noelle, she blogs at http://saylingaway.wordpress.com


Noelle chose to read and review Home For Christmas by Margaret Langstaff

Home For Christmas


Home for Christmas is a compendium of Christmas stories from years gone by, assembled by Margaret Jean Langstaff and the Editors at Cedar Press. These editors intended the collection to be a reminder to its readers of what Christmas really means and what every Christmas gives to the human heart. I will tell you about a few.

How could you not like a book with a wonderful cover illustration of a horse-drawn buggy wending its way past snow-covered cottages of Christmas stories and then opens with O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi? That story tugged at my heart strings when I first read it in high school.

In Christmas Day in the Morning by Grace S. Richmond, older parents are facing another Christmas…

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Twitter horrors: “Im a genius, buy my book”

I swear, I’ve got to do some serious UN-following. Most recent egregious case in point:

“Visit me and the other talented authors at Self Publisher’s Showcase.”

This way way awful.  Don’t people know how they sound?

How do they think this will sell their books?

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So here we go again! NYT “10 Best Books of 2014”


Something to argue about or totally ignore (NYT)

The year’s best books, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.

We should be so grateful for this priceless direction.

The Times used to have the best readers/critics in the universe on staff.

Alas, there has been a serious brain leak or draconian budget cut.

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100 Notable Books of 2014 – NYT

[Just another tidbit of wit (?)]


The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.

Worth reading (pardon the pun), the list, that is.


ALL OUR NAMES. By Dinaw Mengestu. (Knopf, $25.95.) With great sadness and much hard truth, Mengestu’s novel looks at a relationship of shared dependencies between a Midwestern social worker and a bereft African immigrant.

ALL THE BIRDS, SINGING. By Evie Wyld. (Pantheon, $24.95.) Wyld’s emotionally wrenching novel traces a solitary sheep farmer’s attempt to outrun her past on a remote British island.

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. By Anthony Doerr. (Scribner, $27.) The paths of a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy converge in this novel, set around the time of World War II.

AMERICAN INNOVATIONS. By Rivka Galchen. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) Most of these stories offer variations on a particular sort of woman: in her 30s, urban, emotionally adrift.

Etcetera! And so on. And on and on.

NYT 100 Most Notable Books 2014

Note that few were bestsellers. Commerce and literature are like oil and water.  Or something … both congenitally highly suspicious of each other.  They’d never date or share a taxi.

Posted in Commercial Fiction, Literature, New Yorl Times Book Review, NYTBR, Reading | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Apropos of Twitter Self-Promotion and New “Authors?”

“The better the writers, the less they will speak about what they have written themselves.”

hemingwaywriting—Ernest Hemingway


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“Satisfaction is a lowly thing, how pure a thing is joy.” — Marianne Moore

marianne-mooreNeed a lift or some inspiration to escape the gloom of winter and the doldrums of the winter heart?

Here’s a short, beautiful poem that might impart the courage and resolve to get through the season (and life!) by the incomparable Marianne Moore.


What is our innocence,

what is our guilt?  All are

naked, none is safe.  And whence

is courage: the unanswered question,

the resolute doubt,–

dumbly calling, deafly listening–that

in misfortune, even death,

     encourages others

     and in its defeat, stirs

the soul to be strong?  He

sees deep and is glad, who

accedes to mortality

and in his imprisonment rises

upon himself as the sea in a chasm, struggling to be

free and unable to be,

in its surrendering

finds its continuing.

So he who strongly feels,

behaves. The very bird,

grown taller as he sings, steels

his form straight up.  Though he is captive,

his mighty singing

says, satisfaction is a lowly

thing, how pure a thing is joy.

This is mortality,

this is eternity.

[Apologies, but WordPress formatting butchers stanza breaks and the poet’s own formatting, a real fault and limitation in reproducing poetry accurately on this site. But the words are there and the line breaks are accurate.  Check out the original in The Complete Poems by Marianne Moore (a Penguin Classic).]

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The Flood

doveAfter re-reading Emerson’s essay “The Poet” late last night, I became more convinced than ever that human beings have never been more miserable and unhappy than in the last century. This, despite more material abundance, security and personal freedom than ever.

The news today is one long disturbing kvetch, a rising wail, an ear piercing keening-whining choked with indignation, full of blame and outrage over how people feel they have been “wronged.”

Yet life doesn’t owe us anything. Never has. It’s a gift to be enjoyed, in spite of the rough patches and ruts in the road.

Life is hard, full of disappointments, always will be, but this attitude is a pathological dead end response, this psychotic “me, me,me” stuff.

Christopher Lasch’s THE CULTURE OF NARCISSISM published in the ’70s was so prescient in this regard. Surely one of the most over-used words today is “selfies,” so symptomatic of what has to be the most self-referential selfish era in all the 4,000 years of civilization as we have known it. Also see THE NARCISSISM EPIDEMIC: LIVING IN THE AGE OF ENTITLEMENT.

I’m not in the habit, as followers of this blog know, of publishing the poetry I write here–or anywhere online.  But thinking about this today reminded me of a poem I’d written in a bit of a rage and a pique of extreme frustration over all of this.  I dragged it out today and offer it here for your consideration.

We live in a swill of our own making.  We don’t have to, but for some reason can’t see anything beyond our own noses as relating to us, as meaningful or true or beautiful today. Even love. Even love and loyalty have become disposable emotions.

©Copyright 2014, Margaret Langstaff, All Rights Reserved

The water is still rising.
The sky is blue and has been blue for years.
The people cry out from the rooftops.

The people are on the roofs of the houses.
On the roofs of the houses, the people wave,
Hailing the sky like a taxi or ambulance.

Prayers, imprecations–

Now the water is still rising and now rising still.
It covers the loose shingles on which the feet
Of the people stumble and slip,

Waving their arms at the blank blue sky,
Wailing now a last dilute complaint,
Soaked by gray rain, drenched by dark tides

Of their own making, every orifice a green gurgling fountain.

The people shake their fists at the sky
Curse, weep, thrash, growl,
And shove one another from the rooftops

Into the swill beneath their feet—

We have met the enemy and take selfies of it non-stop.

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