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Entries in Wilkes University Creative Writing Program (6)


Writer Wednesday with poet and writer Brian Fanelli

Poet and writer Brian FanelliIt's an honor to welcome Brian Fanelli to "Scrivengale" today.

If there was a weekday to set aside for hard-working young writers who bust their behinds promoting and elevating the literary arts, such a day would be dedicated to him.

Writer Wednesday will just have to serve.

Brian obtained his MFA from Wilkes University and is widely published in national journals and on websites. You can read more about him here.

He is really a remarkable person with an unflagging supply of energy and focus. He tirelessly campaigns for writers as if working under the banner, "Who Doesn't Need More Great Poetry in Their Lives? We ALL do," making appearances at bookstores, galleries, and other intimate venues around Pennsylvania. He also hosts his own New Visions Writers Showcase in Scranton, every other month, providing an invaluable outlet for other writers to share their work.

He published his first chapbook Front Man (Big Table Publishing) in 2010. Christopher Reilley, poet and author of Grief Tatoos said this about Front Man, "The personal life of Brian Fanelli gets the rock star treatment here, in twenty nine brutally honest renderings of his opened veins."

Click here for samples of his poetry.

So nice that you could join us, Brian. How long have you been writing poetry?
Since I was in high school. I was lucky to have a few creative writing classes then and supportive teachers. When I was an undergraduate student, I attended West Chester University, which has a really wonderful poetry scene and a well-known poetry conference every year. My parents were also supportive, and my mom was really the one to buy me some of my first poetry books. She used to go to flea markets, yard sales, and book sales and come home with collections by Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Shelley, and others. So, I started reading poetry at a young age.

What was the impetus for formally studying poetry in the Wilkes program?
After working as a news reporter, I knew that I wanted to attend graduate school. I also knew that I wanted to teach, so I would need an M.F.A. to do so. The Wilkes program appealed to me because of the low-residency aspect. I was able to hold down a few part-time jobs and still obtain my degree. There was no question in my mind that poetry would be the genre I would study since it was always the genre I enjoyed writing in the most.

How would you describe your poetry?
Most of my poems are narrative. I borrow a few elements from fiction in the sense that I like a story, and sometimes I use re-occurring characters. But more than anything, I am concerned with word play and language, so I always try to ensure that my work has at least some musicality to it.

How did you find the rhythm, the cadence for your poetry?

I usually count every syllable in my lines for one thing. I do measure the beats of my lines, and I use a lot of the standard sound techniques in my poems, including assonance, consonance and alliteration, though I don’t go overboard with them. But, as I said earlier, I am concerned with creating a rhythm and musicality to my work. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, behind the freest of verse, there should lurk some ghost of meter. I agree with that.

A lot of your poetry is reflective--about your past. Why so many from this period in your past?  When I was putting together a collection of poems for my M.F.A. at Wilkes, I knew that I wanted to write narrative poems about my youth and time in the punk rock scene. There was so much to write about in terms of character, imagery, and memory. I was never actually in a band, though, so some of the poems are persona poems. I did play guitar for a number of years, though. Front Man also worked well as a coming-of-age collection because the front man persona eventually leaves the scene and lands some real world jobs, which I think is true for most people involved in that scene. You have to grow up at some point.

What is your favorite poem in the collection?
I like some of the poems in the book that aren’t about music necessarily, but about father and son relationships, especially the poems “Waiting Room” and “How I Remember Him.”

Brian Fanelli reading at the Doylestown Bookshop in FebruaryHow do you start a poem? What is your impetus?  I usually have an image in my head, and I start from there and see where it goes.

What are your challenges or frustrations?
Finding enough time to write is one of the biggest challenges. I usually write in the morning, before I have to teach. I enjoy the quiet of the early hours. There is also the frustration of the place of poetry in our society. Sometimes you have to convince people that they will actually enjoy a poetry reading, or I have to convince my students that they will enjoy reading or writing poetry. After they experience a reading or poetry unit, they do enjoy it. In fact, after I finished one of my English courses last year, students wrote in their evaluations that they wanted more poetry!

What is most rewarding about writing poetry?
I just enjoy the challenge of writing poetry, working with such a compressed form where every word really does matter and every line should be well-crafted in terms of image and rhythm. I also love doing readings, traveling to different cities and getting to interact with the poetry scenes outside of Scranton.

What's next?

I have a full-length book of poems coming out next summer through the press Unbound Content. A lot of the poems are working-class narratives, and there are poems that explore relationships and gender communication. There are some music references too, but this collection is a lot different than Front Man, I think.

I also have some readings coming up this summer. On May 31 at 7 p.m., I’m reading at the KGB Bar in New York City again with fellow poet Sandee Gertz Umbach, novelists Taylor Polities and Rich Uhlig, and memoirist Pat Florio, so it will be a mini Wilkes reunion.

I’m also looking forward to reading at the Wise Owl Bookstore in West Reading on June 30 with you, poet Dawn Leas, and novelist Barbara Taylor.

Last summer, I did a reading almost every weekend or every other weekend, so this summer I want to take it a little easy. I’ll also continue to co-host the New Visions Writers Showcase in Scranton. We want to keep that thing going for as long as possible, and our next one is Saturday, May 12 at 7. Then we’ll have one in July.

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Don't forget. Brian will be reading at the Wise Owl Bookstore in West Reading on Saturday June 30 from 1-3 with other Wilkes University authors. Visit Brian's website for other upcoming appearances or friend him on Facebook.


The single best writing tip ever . . .

No build up. Just going to come right out with it. Today's post has one purpose only: To pass along the best single piece of craft advice I've ever gotten.

It actually comes from Kevin Oderman, my creative non-fiction teacher in the Wilkes University Creative Writing Program, and an outstanding craftsman himself.

In response to one of my assignments, Kevin said something like, "Everything you do must serve the story."

Basically, what he was saying was that writers must control their impulses to use a piece of dialogue or add a character or go off on a tangent or employ a certain phrase and ask themselves, "Does it serve the story?" It amounts to making good choices--intentional choices--to advance plot, character, and all the other fictional elements comprising your story.

Pretty simple test. If it doesn't serve the story, it has to go.

I actually used this test to evaluate a piece of stage business in a performance I was reviewing. It didn't serve the story. Not only was it extraneous, it detracted from the story. One piece of stage business weakened an important plot point. And it smacked of indulgent stage direction as a result.

Whatever story you tell, in whatever form (play, screenplay, prose), I challenge you to ask yourself whether the device you've employed or the scene you just added serves the story. The story is master--ironically, not you--and you need to pay slavish attention to it.

If you don't put your story first, who will?

How about you? Does this tip work for you? What is the single best piece of writing advice you've received?


Sarcasm is lost on cats . . .

Frodo, the wonder kitty
Our cat Frodo likes to jump up into the bathroom sink whenever we turn on the spigot to stick her paws in the water. It's a bad habit we indulge by, in fact, turning on the water for her. Then, to communicate the pain and suffering she's causing us by hogging up the sink, my husband and I say things like:
"We hope we're not getting in your way, Frodo, trying to brush our teeth."
Something clever like that. Clever, perhaps. Effective, no. Sarcasm isn't an effective way to communicate when your audience is a housecat.

Sometimes as writers we forget the audience we're writing for. Much as we don't like to be constrained by formulas--I don't write formulaic romance, I always say--if we want to be published, conformity might be a smarter course of action than writing something that isn't easily categorized, then wondering why it's not readily publishable.

As part of their course work for the MFA in Creative Writing at Wilkes University, some of former classmates closely analyzed books in different genres to observe the use of technique or other literary element such as character. Such an intense examination can be very useful in helping to discover how the book you're writing either conforms, betters, of verges too far afield from the body of work in that genre or sub-genre.

I find revision the equivalent of a mental triathlon. Yet, in order to make a couple books ready to shop, I'll need to consider what category into which they can and should be slotted, rewriting them and their queries accordingly.

Because sarcasm is lost on cats.


To share or not to share?

Recently, I learned an acquaintance was writing a book. Excitedly, I asked, "Oh, what's it about?"

Is there a more glorious moment when someone takes an interest in your novel, wanting to know what you're writing about? Not for me. I'm more accustomed to people muttering, "That's great," their eyes glazing over like fasnachts on Fat Tuesday. My experience has been that people only want to hear about your books if you have a track record for publishing them. When someone asks me about my novels, I can't wait to try my pitch out on them. What if I get stuck in an elevator with an editor from Berkley Books, and she says,"What's your book about?" I have to be ready.

So, I practice my pitch. I write it and write it again. As I am wrapping up a book, I revise my logline. I've entered assorted contests--pitch, premise, first page, and novel-in-a-paragraph--seeking feedback on my pitch--my hot idea. You need as much practice as you can get. Not to mention, that sometimes by defining and honing your logline or your premise, you realize your book is getting off track in time to steer it back onto the rails.

"Sharing your pitch is important," said Rick Fellinger, a fellow Wilkes University Creative Writing program alum. "Do you know how many ideas for story content I've gotten when I've told people what I'm writing about?"

"I'd rather not say much about it," the woman said. "I don't want to give it away."

I had asked about her book--in earnest. I was giving her the chance I live for. But she didn't want to talk about it. I asked a follow-up question, and she disclosed a few vague details about her book.

Why didn't she want to talk about her book? Did she think I was going to steal her idea? That's not usually how it works. I can't write her book or anyone else's. Most people can't. Maybe that's why I've experienced very little theft of my intellectual capital despite participating in lots of online writing communities and contests. My god, you're lucky if someone in a position to advance your book sees your book, and its potential. Period.

Hillary didn't get my vote...
and I didn't get a column
Once I submitted an idea for a column to an online magazine with the headline, "Hillary or Bust?" the premise being a sardonic one: Society expected me to vote for another female Democrat because I was a woman, but Hillary wasn't my candidate of choice. The publication didn't accept my column--apparently they were voting for Hillary. However, in the very next issue one of the headlines of their articles was, "Hillary or Bust?" In almost six years of furious writing and submission, that's the worst case of idea theft I've ever experienced. And I never submitted a column idea to them again.

So, what do you think? Are you reluctant to share your writing? Your pitches? Your premises? Do you see the value in sharing them or do you think I'm being too trusting, which I've been known to be? Has anyone ever stolen your writing--premise, pitch, copy?


'Raven's Bride' marries history and pathos, lore and love

Book: The Raven's Bride Author: Lenore Hart Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (New York: 2011) Reviewed by: Gale Martin As someone who appreciated Edgar Allan Poe's stories from my first reading of them as a teen, I was intrigued by the premise of Lenore Hart's newest book, The Raven's Bride, a fictionalized account of the short life of Poe's young wife, Virginia "Sissy" Clemm.

Click to read more ...