Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Doggone Literary Scams

Jack Mushkeau is a man of many accomplishments: he’s an award-winning poet, an ordained minister, and—having just received a contract for his book, Swimming Across the Stream of Consciousness—a soon-to-be-published author.

Except he isn’t. He isn’t even a man (he was neutered nearly 14 years ago); he’s an elderly mixed retriever. A poem of his was not only a semi-finalist in the International Library of Poetry, but was even an Editor’s Choice! The ILP is one of the biggest poetry scams going. The news show 20-20 did an expose many years ago, humorist Dave Barry has outed them, and many websites warn about them. Their scam: they want you to buy the over-priced book that your poem will appear in, they want you to pay for your awards, and they want you to attend their over-priced convention to “see your name up in lights.” His poetry award is worthless. (So was mine in 1994—when I was scammed by them.)

Jack became an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church when I filled in an on-line form for him and printed out his ordination certificate in February 1997. (When Jack was ordained, the ULC had no rule about using an animal’s name for ordination as being fraud. Now they do.) Jack is a good-natured dog who doesn’t mind a bit that I exploit his name. And he certainly fit the ULC’s main rule: “Do only that which is right.”

I first heard about PublishAmerica in 2001 at a conference. I still have their business card I picked up there, but I never submitted a book to them (well, not until a few weeks ago when I sent in Jack’s). Then I started hearing bad things about them—although PublishAmerica calls itself a “traditional publisher,” it doesn’t edit; although it says they reject 80% of books submitted, it accepts anything; although it says it takes returns, the discount is so little that most bookstores won’t bother to deal with PA; PA has stiffed authors on their royalties; and PA doesn’t edit. PA's customers aren’t bookstores, but the authors themselves (who don’t receive as good a discount as I received from the POD company I’ve used for three of my books).

But would PA really take a book that was a real dog—er, from a real dog? Jack—who has his own yahoo email addy— submitted online. In a few days, PA emailed a request for a bio and manuscript; then a few days later, Jack received his acceptance and a sample contract via email. If the contract met with his approval, they’d mail one. Jack did have a concern—he wanted 4 author’s copies, not 2 as the PA contract provided. No problem, said PA and—when Jack’s contract arrived in the mail, it specified he was to get 4 copies.

From Jack’s first page:

Swimming Across the Up-Stream of Consciousness

by J. (“Tha Dawg”) Mushkeau

a collection of poems
from slams and jams
howls and growls
some winners,
some not

The purpose of this book is to make a neo-beat poetical journey in the manner of Laurence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind and Alan Ginsberg’s Howl with echos of other hip young poets who made their barbarous yawps in Greenwich Village in the 1960s or who read James Joyce’s Ulysses in numerous English lit classes in the 1970s or who discovered poetry slams in the 1990s. Or perhaps all of the above.

That makes no sense whatseover. Notice I misspelled Allen Ginsberg. No matter, PA didn’t read as far as the first page.

Jack continues on the second page—which makes even less sense:

Introduction: An Apologia of sorts

The earlier poems reflect a tearing away from, but still adherence to, semi-traditional poetic forms. These are from my “doggy period,” a younger time when I took life in my teeth and shook it, as it were, when I used various canine metaphors to expressed my dogged determination, and when, at times, I was treated like a dog from whom life has snatched a bone. A few poems escaped the enlightening undercurrent that pervades most of my work and are just for fun. Some have been submitted to a poetry organization, which deemed one of them a semi-finalist and worthy of merit in an anthology. A few are posted on

The later poems delve further into the realm of speculative poetry, but more fragmented and cerebral, as I construct them—or possibly deconstruct them. I find that the sentence fragment is helpful in reducing poetic images to their very essence. Think of an apple core, after the apple has been peeled and eaten. All that remains is the thin core wherein lie the seeds of the next tree that will produce the next apple, etc., ad infinitem.

My poems are an attempt to plant seeds in the heart or mind of my readers or listeners, as the case may be, because these poems were originally created for performance.

Now, in my twilight years, partaking of subsistence living in a one-room rental cottage in a rural area 15 miles from the nearest town, having pared my life to the core of my existence (no Internet access unless someone transports me and my humble laptop to a wi-fi zone or the library in town) but at least blessed with indoor plumbing and electricity, albeit no phone. I am content to write and think and foment ideas.

Encouraged by friends and/or fans, I am collecting my works into a collection for possible publication, That you are reading this means I have succeeded.

Feel free to read.

But keep in mind, that the poems contained herein where originally meant to be PERFORMED!!!! with EXPRESSION!!!!!

Did you notice that most of the above didn’t make sense? Did you notice that I used “where” when I should have used “were”? An editor would have caught that (and the earlier comma splice).

Does PA only publish (and I’m using that term very loosely, since PA has no distribution system the way real publishers do) dreadful books? No, the good ones are caught up with the bad. PA doesn’t bother to read anything that’s submitted. Further proof that the “acquisitions editor” at PA didn’t read Jack’s book: he emailed twice asking Jack for his phone number. “Albeit no phone” (above) means no phone, doggone it!

Consequently, Jack won’t be signing and returning his contract. Doing so would, of course, be fraud—plus scam publishers like PA aren’t fit for a dog of his caliber. Also, the bulk of Jack's poetry is plagiarized from scam emails: various Nigerian scams, the fake PayPal and Amazon phishing schemes, etc. Each day a new poetry source arrived in the in-box. Some days brought more than one. A bit of copying and pasting—well, you get the idea. While there’s some doggerel among his work (including his ILP poems) and some poems inspired by famous poems, much came from emails. Has PA ever published plagiarized books? Yep, this one and this one. (Read more about that second one here.)

So, was Jack “doing only that which is right” when he added his name to the list of those who have also exposed the PA scam? The, ahem, illustrious authors Travis Tea and Sharla Tann are among the more famous exposers of PA, but a dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do. If he’s saved just one author from signing with PA, then his work will not have been in vain.

Meanwhile, think of an apple core, after the apple has been peeled and eaten. That’s about what you’ll get with PA.

Meanwhile, from Swimming Across the Stream of Consciousness, a sample poem:

The Dogs Not Taken

Two dogs ran into a neighbors’ wood,
And sorry I could not capture both and hold the puppies,
Long I stood and called to them as loud as I could
Until they disappeared into the undergrowth.

I called again, as that was fair,
and having perhaps a half-way chance.
Those, as for that, I’d sooner
Have broken into song and dance.

I shall be telling this at the pound
Where I wait to bail them out.
My pups ran off with the neighbors’ dog, and I?
I wondered in a fog
How I would ever get out?



Blogger CountryDew said...

That's just sad.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Peggy said...

Wow, Jack is one talented pooch! I hope he got a special treat to celebrate his acceptance as a "traditionally published author".

5:41 PM  

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