friday feast: chatting with barbara etlin about antique piano & other sour notes

Extremely cool cover art by Kevin Slattery

I’m just sitting here tickling the ivories, tickled pink that author, poet, fellow blogger and online friend Barbara Etlin has just published her very first book of poetry! Hoo Hoo!

In between tending her tulips, perfecting owl calls and waiting on HRH Echo (genius good-looking-poetry-writing dog), Barb has managed to cook up 33 mostly humorous, tickle-your-fancy poems exploring “the crescendos and diminuendos of life.”

Call Antique Piano & Other Sour Notes a quirky smorgasbord, a recital of finely-tuned off key musings and amusings about everything from “broken hearts to broken appliances.” It’s fitting that she’s chosen a musical theme for this collection, since she loves to play with lyrics by parodying popular songs and referencing favorite artists like Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles.

Barb’s fave Art Deco vase.

Writers, especially, will appreciate the ode to an electric typewriter and the memo to Lewis Carroll from the Seven Maids’ Union. For minimalists, Barb has included four haiku; for mind-benders, a conversation between refrigerator magnets; for pet lovers, two barks and a meow; and if you’re feeling spacier than normal, check out the “Etiquette for Astronauts.” For the first time ever, we get to hear the Moon’s side of things (and it’s a little dark)!

I asked Barb to share some tips about humor writing and self publishing, and I was curious about the antique piano. Of course I also asked for a favorite recipe (yes, it’s chocolate!). And, as a special added treat especially for you animal lovers, we’re serving up a sample poem from the book by Echo himself (it’s a good thing Barb takes good dictation). Ruff!

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james rumford: the author’s lament

Spread from Rain School by James Rumford

You must read this eye-opening post by Hawai’i author/illustrator James Rumford.

I call it “eye-opening” because of Jim’s candor. He speaks freely about editor-author relationships, his disillusionment with the lack of creative nurturing by editors, why he thinks so many authors are turning to self-publishing, and ultimately what it would take for publishing to survive.

I share his wish that publishing houses were smaller (like in the old days), “when publishers cared about their authors and considered it important to nurture the fragile egos they had taken under their wing.” At one point, he refers to editors as “bosses,” not necessarily there to be liked, who “sometimes treat illustrators as hired help.”

I admit to being someone who bought into the romantic notion of the old-fashioned author-editor culture, only to be somewhat disappointed that, in my limited experience at least, it was nowhere to be found. Yet it must still exist, since I often read about other authors who love their editors and value them highly. Still, it’s disheartening to hear that Jim, with his enviable track record of creating unique, timeless books, is finding more evidence that such relationships are the exception rather than the rule.

I know that publishing is a business and there are things like bottom lines and profit margins. The oftentimes conflicting interests of art vs. commerce have always been part of the picture. But to me it’s common sense: take good care of your authors and artists; make it possible for them to do their best work. Be ever sensitive to the negative consequences of “art by committee.”  Then everyone stands to benefit.

Any time something gets too big and impersonal (i.e., corporate publishing), there is a price to be paid. This is true in any field, not just publishing. But we’re talking about art here. We already live in a society that may appreciate art, but for the most part doesn’t support and/or value its artists. This has to begin with those who profess to value art enough to devote their careers to disseminating it. We cannot lose sight that human beings make art and human beings have the power to either foster or destroy it. Yes, I know it’s way more complicated and I oversimplify in my idealistic thinking. But, oh, how money corrupts.

Please go read and share your thoughts.

♥ BTW,  I was thrilled to hear Jim’s gorgeous picture book, Rain School, was one of three titles selected for the 2011 Spirit of Paper Tigers Book Set. This means that new copies of the book will be donated to schools and libraries all over the world. A well deserved and suitable honor for a widely traveled, multilingual artist with a lifelong interest in different cultures. Be sure to read Marjorie Coughlan’s excellent interview with Jim to learn more about Rain School, and do visit the Paper Tigers Gallery to see more of his art.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.