Anne Coray: Be Good to Your Blurbers

Thanks again to Anne Coray for being our September featured author.

As if writing a book and securing a publisher isn’t hard enough, writers have the additional duty of soliciting blurbs—or “endorsements” to use the euphemism. If you don’t have a lot of famous writer-friends the task can be tedious and disappointing. Who to approach?

The logical place to start is with writers whose work you’ve admired. But compiling the list is only the first step. Next is trying to find contact information, and sometimes we strike out. Then, even if we get that far, there are non-responders. Soon the list is less than half its original length. We might hear back from someone, but the message is, “Sorry, too busy.” Another says, “Sure, I’ll take a look.” Excitedly, we send off the manuscript, and that’s the last time we make contact. (Doubt kicks in—maybe the writing isn’t strong enough? That’s possible, but face, it, some people are just flakes.) Finally,when we’re on the verge of feeling desperate, someone says yes and means it. The blurb arrives several weeks later, and we are thrilled. We are grateful, and we offer profuse thanks. If possible, we should go further.
Someone has taken time out of his or her busy life (yes, most of us are insanely busy) to read our book and craft a comment that is meant to help promote our work. There’s no pay, and the only reward for the blurber is the dubious advantage of spreading his or her name to new readers. So I’d like to express my appreciation to a few of my blurbers by taking a minute (okay, I spent a few mornings on this) to endorse their work.
William Heyen I was first introduced to him when I read two poems in the environmental anthology Poems for a Small Planet. “Canary” and “Fur” expressed so perfectly my sentiments that I was compelled to order his book Pterodactyl Rose: Poems of Ecology. Later, after he’d written my blurb, he sent me a bundle of his books, and it was a pleasure to get to know his body of work. Sometimes lyrical, sometimes angry, sometimes philosophical or matter-of-fact, he also has more range in terms of content than almost any poet I’ve read, his collections covering topics diverse as Crazy Horse, the Holocaust, and Princess Diana. I especially loved two slim volumes: The Angel Voices and Lord Dragonfly, and a heftier one, Pig Notes & Dumb Music, a delightful mix of poetry, short prose, and parable, for which I wrote a review on Amazon. The Rope is also full of hard-hitting but essential environmental poems.

Joanna Klink—I ran across two of her poems when our work appeared in the same volume of City Art Journal out of Salt Lake City. Wow, was I impressed. Klink has one of the most lyrical, meditative voices in print. Lest I do disservice to her by trying to convey the beauty and quiet constraint of her poetry, let me offer an excerpt from her book Circadian. Here is the opening of “Sea by Flowers ”:

And what can you tell me of the foothills

spread with dusk, inchoate premonitions of stars

burning low upon this path sloping to the Adriatic.

Out of the earth that cools to scavengers you are made

remote again. Warm smoke from homes a presage

of what we have begun: the shallow seawaves drawn back

so that, on the darker inward water, an ancient calenture

might center itself. And we wish to pass close,

as when a reefless wind rises up from that water,

dispatched as the dusk is briefly dispatched.

Traveler, show me some place where I matter least,


This reads almost like a lullaby. The poet’s debut collection, They are Sleeping, is rich with equally stunning language. The seven aubades in the middle of the book insist that awakening is always possible—because we have erred, and slept, and it is dawn.

Rosellen Brown—My connection with Rosellen came about differently. I was a student in the MFA program when she traveled to Anchorage as a visiting writer. In a private tutorial, she helped boost my confidence, assuring me that “whatever it is, you have it.” Roughly ten years later, I remembered her support when my first collection, Bone Strings, was about to be published. When I approached her at the AWP conference in Vancouver, she generously agreed to read my manuscript.

I confess it was only recently that I picked up her 1992 novel Before and After. What a gripper. In the aftermath of a horrific crime, the parents of a 17-year old boy are torn with feelings of love, protection, guilt, and loyalty. The book is a page-turner infused with insightful psychological musings. I loved the gems Brown delivers throughout, observations such as:

Who knows anything about the law, really? It was like the body, I thought, helpless. If I asked you where your pancreas is, would you really know?

So, I guess, if he was super, we couldn’t be. There was not enough room in this state of superness for all of us at the same time.

This is writing at its finest, and I look forward to reading her other novels, The Autobiography of My Mother, Civil Wars, Half a Heart, and Tender Mercies (not to be confused with the movie starring Robert Duvall; they have nothing but a title in common). Brown takes on tough subjects and isn’t afraid to explore situations that some may find unpalatable.

These are just three writers who have extended themselves to me in ways that I won’t forget. I wish I had enough space here to thank the others.

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