Calling All Submissions!

submissioncallHey there, writers and artists!

We love sharing your work with the world…but in order to do that, we need work to share. To that effect, we’re calling all writers and artists (that’s YOU) to submit their labors of love.

Got a story you’ve been sitting on for a while? A couple of photos you’ve always thought were lovely? A project you’re working on? We’d love to see them! Our current theme is Coming of Age, but we’re accepting art in all forms on all topics.

Questions? Comments? Email us at ampersandlit@gmail.com. And spread the word!

Announcing…Themes!

We get a lot of requests for more specific submission tips: what exactly are you looking for? Do you have a particular topic in mind? Where can I even begin?
And while we’re not quite ready to give up free-form submissions altogether (so keep ’em coming, folks!), we did decide to give ourselves a bit of a chapter heading. So, starting this June, we’re going to curate submissions around a quarterly theme—which we’ll be announcing right here!
And what’s our first theme?
fairytale

Here at Ampersand, we’re all about bringing people together, and nothing connects us more than the stories we all share.

The words “once upon a time” echo through you with reminders of childhood, lost dreams, and a space outside of time. Give us the unlikely, the ideal, the twisted, the light-hearted and brave. Give us that feeling that things aren’t always what they seem on the surface. Give us your true loves and your broken hearts.

Give us your fairy tales.

(And feel free to interpret that loosely.)

The Man Behind The Book (Thief)

By Clare Moore

bookthief1Throughout your life you read hundreds, probably thousands of books. Of those thousands, a hundred become your favorite. Out of those hundred, maybe five are special. The books that change you, so you’re a different person after you read them than you were before. For me, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was one of those books.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of Markus Zusak’s internationally acclaimed book, which he’s celebrating with a book tour in America. Since he’s from Australia and rarely makes it to the States, I knew I had to get to one of these events and see in person the man whose book changed my life. I was not disappointed.

He began his talk at the Norman P. Murray Community Center in Mission Viejo with a story, which I am not going to repeat because I could not do it justice and I don’t have an adorable Australian accent. But he used this story to illustrate his 4 keys to writing well:

  1. Use stories from your own life.
  2. The small details make a story believable.
  3. The unexpected outcomes are what elicit reactions from your audience.
  4. Edit well.

I was so struck by this points, and how well illustrated they were in his story that I felt I had to share them with other aspiring writers. As Zusak pointed out himself, writing is not about being brilliant or doing something complicated. The key to good writing is to do the simple things well, which he does in The Book Thief by following the four points he outlined.

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Markus Zusak

Another tip he shared that I think is good for aspiring writers is to hear is to be selfish. Now, this doesn’t mean don’t share your dessert, but it does mean that you need to safeguard your time. If you’re going to finish writing your book, you need time to actually write it, and that means that sometimes you have to be selfish and hoard your time. It might mean getting someone to babysit your kids for a weekend so you can be alone to write. It might mean not hanging out with your friends at the mall on a Saturday because you need to finish a chapter. Value your time, and guard it well.

Another tip, which ties into his 4th key of writing, is to realize that writing is rewriting. The whole room cringed when he talked about writing long sections of his novel only to toss it all away, but writers have to be able to throw things out even when it’s painful. Editing is how stories become good, and more editing is how they become great.

Note on over editing: you can make things more perfect by editing too much, but that doesn’t necessarily make them more right.

Lastly, I’ll share one more insight from the man, the myth, the legend. Writers need chaos. Just like necessity is the mother of invention, problems are the mother of writing. Writing isn’t about imagination, but crises. It’s solving problems that leads to imagination through creative ways to solve the problems. That is how we get stories.

I won’t share much about the actual book because I don’t want to spoil anything. If you haven’t read it, go do so now! It is a masterpiece written by a master writer, though he’s so humble he would never admit it. But if you’re looking for a book to help you understand the art of writing and telling stories, this is one you need to check out. Because, as Markus Zusak said, The Book Thief is about stories. It’s the story of Liesel and the stories of the people around her. And, most importantly, it’s about how telling her own story is what saves her in the end.

Check out Markus Zusak’s gift for oral story telling and his awesome accent in this Ted Talk in Sydney.


Profile PhotoClare is one of the two fabulous editors behind Ampersand. She’s also a quadruplet, a Lord of the Rings nut, a teacher, and a dedicated Dodgers fan. She highly recommends reading The Book Thief and guarantees that it will change your life. If it doesn’t, you’re reading it wrong.

 

7 Tips for Artists and Writers Just Starting Out on Social Media

By Shaun Taylor

Social media is a fantastic way to build relationships with your current and potential customers. This is true whether you have a brick and mortar business or you have an online business. When I started my business I thought I could run the social media for my business the way I ran my personal pages. I was very wrong and in the process did a bit of damage. I did not understand Facebook algorithms or where my audience was or even how often I needed to post anything. This made my business look more like a hobby. Here are a few tips I wish I had known straight away when I started.

 

  1. Create social media accounts for your business. If you are using Pinterest then create a Pinterest business account instead of a personal account. This allows your business to be searchable. If you are using Facebook then create a business page. This allows you to create ads to generate traffic to your page or website. Facebook is a pay to play platform so you want to be set up ready to play. Treat your art and writing like a business because it is one. Share things that are relevant to your business and audience. Take time to really make sure your posts work visually. Put thought into your color scheme, wording and even font as you are creating memes or flyers. If you want to be seen as a professional you need to look and act like one.

 

  1. Start with only one or two platforms. Social media can be time consuming. Start off with one or two platforms you know you can commit to posting to on a daily basis. If you are new to social media for business I actually suggest you get in the habit of posting yourself before using a program like Buffer or Hootsuite or getting a social media assistant. You need to be intimate with your audience so it is important that you are the one posting and interacting on social media. I am also a firm believer in knowing how to do everything yourself. You can always outsource this task at a later time.

 

  1. Know your audience. You hear this a lot because it is true. You need to know who you are selling to and where they spend their time when they are on social media. There is no reason to spend all day on Twitter if no one there is going to buy from you. Do market research. Send out surveys. Make sure your content is relative to your audience and business.

 

  1. Stop selling all the time. Everyone wants to buy, but no one wants to be sold. Use social media to show off your talent. Use it to connect with potential customers. People buy from people they know and trust so get to know your audience and let them get to know you. This does not mean you cannot promote a product. It just does not have to be every post.

 

  1. Be consistent. There really is no such thing as an overnight success. You need to hustle past what the average person is willing to do. So post pictures of your process or who influences you or even what your favorite art or writing product is this month. Post about what you are doing behind the scenes to get ready for a convention or signing. You can even post about your favorite movie or beer. Ask questions and tell you audience how to respond to keep interest. Just keep posting and keep your audience engaged.

 

  1. Stay engaged in social media with the people who influence you. Like attracts like, so there is a good chance you share the same audience with the people that influence you. Post relative content in their comments. Share their post on your platforms if it is relative to your audience. Buy their work and support their business the way you would like someone to support you.

 

  1. Do not post the same post on each platform. Ideally you will have some followers on more than one platform and they do not want to see the same post two or three times. This is true for contests and giveaways as well. Really be thoughtful and authentic in your posts. This is what will set you apart from everyone else.

 

When you are first starting out you do not always have the money or resources to have a fulltime staff taking care of all aspects of your business so you have to do it yourself. Applying these tips to your social media accounts for your business will get you on the right track to making a living doing what you love full time. Did you find this post useful? If so, make sure you share this with your friends.


Shaun is the co-owner of Stay Brilliant which is a business coaching and consulting company that specializes in helping artists and writers. Shaun runs the company with her husband Sean. Their motto is “two Shawns make a right” (See what they did there). Shaun is originally from Los Angeles, but is currently based in Sacramento with her husband and three children. They have two Labradors; Veruca and Thor and a cat by the name of Huntress. In addition to coaching she enjoys comic books, food, craft beer and sarcasm. You can follow Stay Brilliant on Facebook www.facebook.com/staynbrilliant.

On Lolita and the Power of Literature

By Tiffany Klinger

e75a1e6fad254fb4b1d7afb431131a88“If there’s anywhere I can read Lolita and not feel like people are judging me,” I told my sister as I packed my bag for Paris, “it’s here.” A few months ago, when I got on the subway in Times Square, early on New Years Eve, and I pulled out my small copy of Lolita – chosen for the easiness in which in fit in my handbag – and cracked open the book for the first time. I quickly realized I wasn’t sure if I was up for the piece of literature, perhaps I was not quite so worldly and literary as I thought. Everyone tells me its “must read.” But my “must read” list is increasingly long – I wasn’t sure if I should spend precious reading time on a book that seemed more likely to corrupt my mind and cause me to lose hope in the human race more than anything else. When I arrived, finally, down at Wall St., I closed the book and didn’t open it again till I was packing for Europe, rummaging through my half-started books, trying to decide which were both small and interesting. I picked up Lolita again, determined to try it another try – a fresh start.

While I was on a train to Rome, as the Italian countryside passed me by, I found myself immersed in this world of Humbert’s– flinching all along the way, wishing myself to read the pages faster, but getting caught up in Nabokov’s vivid and strange descriptions. But halfway through the novel, I put the book down knowing I would have to pick it back up again. I knew that Humbert and I– we would continue this journey together, even if I was kicking and screaming the whole way.

When asked a few months ago what my favorite books were, I promptly replied with the usual: Gone With the Wind, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Anna Karenina. Following my response, it was quickly pointed out to me that I must enjoy the “hated protagonist.” I laughed, as I had never made the connection myself, but I started wondering why I was so attracted to these characters. They were strong and brave – but mostly strong when they should have backed down, and brave when they should have been timid. They are manipulative, admired from afar, but respected by no one.

This past summer, Gary Saul Morson, professor of Arts and Humanities at Northwestern University, wrote a lengthy article in Commentary, “Why College Kids Are Avoiding the Study of Literature” and put my jumbled thoughts into precise wording. As Morson explains why the study of literature is so important, he points out how reading great literature teaches us to empathize like few other disciplines:

“When you read a great novel, you put yourself in the place of the hero or heroine, feel her difficulties from within, regret her bad choices. Momentarily, they become your bad choices. You wince, you suffer, you have to put the book down for a while…And so, page by page, you constantly verify the old maxim: There but for the grace of God go I. No set of doctrines is as important for ethical behavior as that direct sensation of being in the other person’s place.”

Perhaps we all have experienced what Morson is talking about, I have this feeling that we do – but I think we forget the lesson when we forget the importance of the lesson. Literature – great literature – has the power to transform our minds., and stretch us beyond our own personal worlds, where we worry about who understands us, rather than how we understand others – and therefore, how we choose to react to others.

Lolita was teaching me just that – empathy. Here was a truly despicable protagonist that somehow, I didn’t hate. Suddenly, I could see Humbert’s side of things, the way you see everyone’s side of the story in Anna Karenina – the misunderstandings, longings, and desires. Humbert knows society does not allow him to have what he wants, such as Anna and Vronsky know this also but they fight anyway. And as humans, as champions, we cheer for them all the way, even though, perhaps we see their foreboding demise (does society always win?). Perhaps we also know, if Humbert has been born centuries earlier and Anna lived in today’s society, both of their sins would easily be forgiven – or not considered sins at all (how easy morality is shaped!) Perhaps it is empathy that allows us to realize these truths.

In his afterword, Nabokov teases the reader a little, imagining that most people wouldn’t make it to Part II, citing those who were hoping Lolita to be a lewd book, would suddenly be bored. Stories of controlled obsession rarely entice readers for too long (“Anna, just sleep with Vronsky already”, we might say, or “Scarlett, do whatever you have to do”). We want there to be a breaking point, a satisfactory destruction, a moment where the passion fully overtakes the individual. But Lolita hardly allows us that satisfaction. I found myself wishing Humbert to get caught, or perhaps he’d lock Lolita in the basement, or maybe she’d shoot him in a moment of rage. Instead, we are subjected to Humbert’s witty and paranoid world. We join him as they stop at different hotels, and travels across barren America, descriptions of ugly classmates, play dates with random friends, monstrous fears of Humberts, and details of Lolita playing tennis or dancing or theater-acting. These are only details of everyday life; the maddening details of a love struck obsessed man (you became convinced it isn’t simply lust).

Only towards the end of the book do we sense some action is coming, some change, some grand destruction. But within the grand destruction – the climax of sinning against society – is a confession that I think surprises Humbert himself. Even seeing Lo married to someone else, pregnant, dirty, old (ish), and unkempt, Humbert still loves her (“my Lolita!”), and pleads her to go with him (she refuses, though doesn’t seem to mind his presence). Is Humbert a reliable narrator? Of course not. After all, he claims in the beginning that Lolita seduced him (unlikely). But even if Humbert is not reliable, to imagine he loves Lolita beyond the perfection of youth, that he is not simply “criminally attracted to young girls”, not simply a pedophile, is to imagine that society might forgive his transgressions if they are wrapped up with a pretty bow in the name of love (“I loved you. I was a pentapod monster, but I loved you. I was despicable and brutal, and turpid, and everything, mais je t’aimais, je t’aimais!”).

And perhaps we will, we do – somewhere deep inside, it makes things better. Because love means you think about something or someone beyond yourself. You put yourself aside, love means being at the mercy of someone else, being vulnerable, being open, being completely “not in control.” We understand how hard it is to allow yourself to be in that state. But this isn’t the sort of feeling we get from Humbert. In the end, Humbert realizes (to his credit) that he does not even know Lolita at all. He was in love with an illusion, an idea, a fantasy he thought he could project on Lolita. But she never quite fits the mold, she always weasels her way out of it somehow. The fantasy Lo seduces Humbert, she gives him sly glances, she acts older than her age, but looks younger than her years, and she is a vixen, a starlet, yet pure and tantalizing, enjoys the relations between her and Humbert. But the real Lo, the girl, is dirty and unkempt, creative and daring, confused and forgiving, starving for attention and a sense of normalcy, detests her so-called father’s touch.

But we, the reader, we don’t get off too easily either. We have to make a choice right around page five. Humbert knows we will judge him and find him guilty. Humbert knows he sounds crazy and deprived (can he really be crazy then?). He is not a character lacking self-awareness. He is not a character easily dismissed into the Disney graveyard for villains. Perhaps Scarlett O’hara is forgivable because she completely lacks self-awareness. Perhaps Anna is forgivable because she simply doesn’t realize her mistake till its too late. But Humbert knows. He knows from the beginning what he will try to do, he knows his own passions, his sins, everything is premeditated, thought-out, fabricated. Does that make it easier or harder for us to pass judgment?

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.”

For certain, it makes us uncomfortable. But in that moment, in the interim of neither guilty nor not guilty, we find ourselves out on the limb, standing with Humbert as he awaits his verdict, “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury…look at this tangle of thorns.” And so we must decide, not whether Humbert is guilty or not guilty (after all, he is guilty), but whether or not we choose to learn, and be empathic – not for an end purpose, but for the purpose of being able to say, “I understand, I feel what you feel, I believe you.” We have to decide if we can, for 200+ pages, put aside our social constructions, expand our worldview, and simply listen.

It’s an art form lost, but nevertheless it’s an art form necessary. Literature affords us such a practice. It asks nothing of its reader but the opportunity to tell a story, to share an experience, to describe an emotion. It simply asks us, for a short moment in time, to be an unbiased witness.

I am not such a good listener as I would like to be. I find myself pointing out discrepancies, flaws, and lack of sound logic or reasoning, and I often think of arguments I would make against an author’s claims. And though I do believe critical thinking is likewise a necessary art form, in a world where we often judge and forget what it’s like to be judged, it doesn’t take much for the lesson to hit home.


Tiffany holds her B.A. in Media, Culture, and the Arts, and attempts to pursue all those things simultaneously. She currently resides in the D.C. area.
Follow her on Instagram: @tiff_kling

Half Measures: Showing and Telling

By Robert Malone

“Show, don’t tell.” It is perhaps the foremost rule of storytelling, in part because it’s kind of what a story is. A story is an illustration, a portrayal of some point or idea that might be lessened or lost in a simple declarative statement. It’s the difference between the sentence, “Good men can turn bad,” and five seasons of a straight-laced high school chemistry teacher evolving into a murderous drug kingpin.

Generally the rule is applied in smaller contexts. In Breaking Bad’s pilot episode, no one tells us that life has been unfair to Walter White, and no one has to. When he’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer after not having smoked a day in his life, we feel it in our bones. And no one tells us that he feels emasculated, but we cringe at the emasculation he suffers when he’s forced on his hands and knees to wash one of his disrespectful students’ cars. We don’t have to be told that he’s a complete stranger to violence when the show begins—his dainty handling of Hank’s unloaded handgun tells us more than words ever could. And we don’t have to be told that his life lacks passion, because that’s illustrated with outright excruciation when he receives as a birthday present from his wife one of the most pathetic hand jobs this side of a Louis CK bit. Through all this, the audience feels Walt’s frustration so reflexively that their sympathy for him is sustained even when he begins to act more and more questionably, and it makes the contrast with who he eventually becomes all the more stark and meaningful.

When we talk about rules of storytelling, we’re not talking about sacred dictates that must never be disobeyed. A rule is not handed down by some authority on high, but instead must justify itself in order to survive. And this one does. There is simply a stronger effect in showing something rather than stating its existence. It’s why abstinence-only sex educators don’t just tell teenagers that sex is risky—they show them nauseating photographic evidence of leprous open sores. Showing produces an innate, visceral effect that telling doesn’t. When we’re told something, we know it. When we’re shown something, we feel it. And as much as we like to think ourselves rational animals, no coldly stated fact embeds itself in our minds the way a really graphic account does. It’s why we’re more afraid of Great White sharks and terrorists than we are of heart disease. It’s why a photograph of a single mutilated bloody corpse causes more distress and outrage than the phrase “100,000 civilian casualties.”

As with any rule, there are occasions for exception, and part of being a good storyteller is knowing when to go against convention. Economy of story matters, and “He’s out of town” can often do the same work as showing some minor character packing bags and driving past a city limits sign. Or something might be better left to the imagination—we’re all grateful that David Fincher told us more than showed us what happened to the “Lust” victim in Seven (and probably nothing could be more horrifying than what we all imagined). Or perhaps it is better in some scenario to have a cop in a standoff say out loud “This place is surrounded,” rather than actually show a SWAT team crouching in the bushes with guns drawn. Perhaps it creates an added tension by our wondering whether or not he’s bluffing. But then that evidences the rule still further: a bald statement can be doubted in a way that an action or an image can’t. Seeing it with your own eyes makes it real.

Even the slightest instance of showing can trump a whole lot of telling. That nostalgic, bittersweet smile that comes onto old Ben Kenobi’s face for a brief moment in A New Hope when he reminisces about Luke’s father does more to make that friendship seem real than six hours of prequels. Because while we hear Anakin and Obi-Wan talk about how they’ve had plenty of offscreen adventures that cemented their camaraderie, all we are ever really shown is their bickering and badmouthing each other to anyone who will listen. What we see doesn’t feel like anything resembling friendship. And while we’re told that Anakin was another good man who tragically succumbed to evil, we never really feel any sort of truth in that, because what we’re shown is a guy who’s already slaughtering defenseless women and children at the halfway point of the first film after his voice has dropped. Does his turn to evil really feel like a gut-wrenching betrayal, or more of a slight progression on the spectrum of violent fascism he was on from the start?

But consider another apparent exception, this one coming again from Breaking Bad: Mike’s famous “Half Measure” speech from the show’s third season.

On the surface this might seem like blatant disregard for the “show, don’t tell” rule. We aren’t shown anything Mike is talking about. There is no flashback to the incident, in fact no imagery whatsoever except for two men sitting in a silent darkened room, hardly even moving. If this rule is so fundamental to good storytelling, then how is it that one of the best and most effective scenes in a series chock full of them is one that flouts the rule so brazenly?

Two reasons. One is Jonathan Banks. This kind of thing just doesn’t work with a mediocre actor. It takes talent to pull off the blend of frustrated desperation and jaded stoicism that makes this kind of scene so fascinating, and Jonathan Banks as Mike is just crazy good at it.

The second reason is more complex. It helps to remember that this rule we’re discussing applies not just to visual media like television, but to all storytelling. A good novel “shows” you things rather than tell you them, not by literally showing you images printed on the page, but by illustrating them as vividly as possible with language. We aren’t told that a character is angry—we’re presented with a scene in which that character begins throwing wild punches in a fit of rage. A storyteller uses words, images, dialogue, any disposable means to build the most compelling illustration of whatever we the audience are meant to know and feel. Taken in this larger sense, Mike’s speech, while it breaks the rule on one level, on a deeper level reveals a vigorous adherence to the rule on the part of the show’s writers.

The story Mike tells is utterly irrelevant to the plot of the show. We haven’t met the characters he’s talking about and we never will. No event he’s talking about will have any direct influence on anything that happens. That’s not why he’s telling it. He’s telling it to illustrate something to Walt. Mike doesn’t just say, “Half measures aren’t good enough.” Would anyone remember that scene? No, he goes out of his way to show Walt why half measures aren’t good enough, in a way that causes us to feel the urgency of the choices Walt will be forced to make at the finale of the episode. On this particular point, the writers are willing to dedicate four and a half minutes of screen time to a digressive but fully realized side story merely to illustrate their point in a way that will stick. And it works, because rather than take the half measure of simply telling you what they want you to know, they go all the way, and you feel it.

Because to be shown something is more dramatic, compelling and effective than simply being told. I could tell you this, but you might remain skeptical. To really make my point, I have to go to all this trouble to show.


Robert Malone is a writer and musician from Cambria, California. His work includes novels, screenplays, short stories and non-fiction. You can find his writing and occasional no-budget short films at robertjmalone.wordpress.com

Meet Ampersand Literary

Hello, world! Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are Ampersand Literary, an online review for the amateur artist. This is a place where artists of all kinds can share their work, learn from other artists, and hopefully grow in their own medium. We at Ampersand realize that the art and writing world can be not only intimidating, but difficult and frustrating for artists trying to “make it”. Either you’re stuck getting rejection letters from major publications or still publishing your work on your own personal blog, or usually both. We want to fill the void between the big guys and the blogs.

We accept art submissions of many kinds, primarily short stories, poetry, essays, articles and reviews, photography, and original art (traditional and digital). You can read about how to submit your work on our submissions page. Never published anything before? Doesn’t matter. Send us something! Published before? Send us something! We are here to be your first, second, fifth, twenty-seventh, and eighty-second publication credit.

But it’s not just a matter of getting those publications on your resume. Art is about ideas, and what good are ideas if they aren’t shared? We want to get your art out there and share it with the world. We want to provide art that gives people something to think about. In a sense, Ampersand is not just for the artists. It’s for everyone, at least anyone who likes to think. Our goal is to make people eager to check Ampersand to see what’s new because they’re excited to discover a new story, or painting, or poem.

While our focus is primarily on less well-known artists, we want to bring in the professionals to help the amateurs learn and grow. As artists, we are always learning, and we always have something to teach each other!