Category Archives: career

Poetry Book, Future Feature Readings, and Poetic Excitment

I have neglected this blog for a long time, because I’ve been fairly busy with school, but I want to re-establish my online presence here and now. I am breathing, poet-ing, and living life all the time. In the course of these events, I have a few tidbits of incredibly explosive news.

Firstly, I have decided to self-publish a chapbook of poetry, which will be entitled Skinny Dipping with Strangers, named after the featured poem of the same name. Hypothetically, this poem will be released in early January or as early as late December! I will be working on it even harder once I finish final exams and begin my winter break!

Secondly, I will be performing at a number of shows in the upcoming months, including the open mics I already frequent. The soonest will come this Wednesday on November 20th at the 827. I will be performing a 25 minute feature, after which will follow an open mic and poetry slam! For all the information, check out the event here:!open-mic-night/cdoa

Or you can join the Facebook event here:

If you cannot make this performance, that will be perfectly fine. There will possibly be another Charleston-centric event I shall update you about on a later date.

Likewise, if you’re not in the Charleston area and clambering to experience Derek Berry’s poetic gymnastics, I have three great options for you. Firstly, I will be working in the coming weeks to produce a few low-budget videos of my performances, and maybe even some music-video-type projects for poems! Secondly, I am going to work on getting a professional recording of the poems that will appear in the book (and some other poems too) which I will be giving away for free to those that purchase the book.

Finally, I have a very exciting announcement. I will be featuring in the city where my spoken word started off– Augusta, GA! On January 2nd, 2014, I will perform a show at M.A.D. Studios, hosted by Catherine Zickgraf. I will also post again about this in the future. You can come out and see me play home field.

In other words, get psyched for the possibilities for the future. There have been other poetic concerns clouding my mind, but I don’t want to share them until they become officiated. Keep in touch, and I will keep everyone updated.


Genre Crisis: “New Adult” Label

a_4x-horizontalNobody likes to be put into categories, most of all writers. But categories—or in the world of books, genres—are very helpful for marketing and selling a book. When querying publishing firms and literary agents, one must identify their genre, which helps the editors and agents decide whether the project will fall into their areas of interest. But recently, I’ve had an extremely difficult time placing my novel in a genre, which should be a good thing because agents seek works that cross several genres, except it seriously curtails one’s ability to market himself.

I could easily make up my own genre: Southern comedy transgressive? Meta-cultural southern teen exploration? Young adult, but not that young, but maybe still in their twenties who like funny but also serious writing?

The problem is, if the agent doesn’t recognize the genre, then she or he cannot place it right? I tried literary, but that


can’t just say that: you need a better phrase.

brand is too broad. While my project has literary elements, it certainly could be explained more descriptively. I tried young adult, but this generally means the books is marketed for teens ages 12-15. My novel is marketed toward older teens and 20-somethings. It, like many New Adult novels, tracks the growth and development of young adults whose identities are forming, who are seriously changing.

So maybe your book is a noir space opera western with thriller-paced plotting, literary aesthetic, and occult elements? Well, you need a better way to say that, a shorter way.

As I’ve been e-mailing literary agents, literary magazines, and publishers, this question has plagued me constantly. Finally I found an age-group description “New Adult” with which to market the novel THE HEATHENS AND LIARS OF LICKSKILLET COUNTY. “New Adult” bridges the gap between the safe and young group of Young Adult (YA) readers and Adult fiction. But because my books deals with characters in between, I think this genre (a relatively new invention of words) is fitting.

Querying agents has so far not worked out, but I am still sending many, many emails all over the country (and the world!) to publish this novel, as well as poems and short stories.

Have you had trouble labeling a piece of work? What genre did you settle on?

Summer Publishing Haze

While summer serves as my one chance to sit down, breathe, and send out short stories to literary magazines, it also usually serves as a time for literary editors to take a break. I have been sending out short stories to various magazines that are still open, and 24 rejection letters later, I came to a realization I can’t actually publish short stories I’ve previously published on the blog. For that reason, I’ll be deleting the short stories I intend to send out.

Otherwise, I won’t be able to publish these stories. By the end of the day, I will have taken them down—sorry if you never got a chance to read them. Submerged and Memoir will continue to be on the blog, but Chicken Deluxe, Monster Theory, and Gartenswerg will be gone.

I have been working on various other short fiction pieces, which also face publication possibilities. Whenever I sniff the first inkling of success, I’ll be talking about it here on Word Salad. Until then, I will be working. I will be busy writing, editing, and submitting.

Staring at a Computer Screen Does Not Make You Productive, Study Shows

groogle-searchesWhile I have not yet blogged in 2013 and only sparingly over the past month, I have been incredibly busy and productive. I have a novel to edit and rewrite, remember? Also, I spent six days trying to figure out how to get through The Shadow Temple in Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Honestly, can anyone else say they have worked with as much diligence as I have?

More often than not, when we set goals for ourselves, we end up disappointing. Like, when I thought I would blog every day in 2013 but waited until the fourth day of the year to even log in to my WordPress account. Or that time I said, “I’m going to have this novel published by the end of 2011… I meant, 2012… I mean…. Ah.”

The truth is, I never get anything done when I mean to. I am a master procrastinator, wielding my deadly weapons of sleep, boredom, and Netflix. On the plus side, I have seen every film listed under the sub-heading “Goofy Stoner Comedy.” Whether or not there is an accolade for this, I’m not exactly sure.

Which brings me back to the idea of accomplishment. What makes us so lazy we never accomplish anything, especially the things we really want to do? I would pin that on fear, fear that we won’t succeed like we want to. It’s pretty easy being a famous-future-author when you’ve published diddly-squat. You just have to sit back and think what you’ll tell Ellen DeGeneres when she interviews you, how you would totally blow off Oprah (Just kidding, Oprah, please love me).

I am clinging to the idea of being finished, trying to scrape together the will and time to write, to edit. But some days, I would rather stick my head underneath a lawn mower. Some days, editing feels like actual work. Despite my lack of completion, I have made great bounds of progress with “In Lickskillet” as well as with a new project I wish I pursue post In-Lickskillet-publication.

Just keep your head up, your pen at the ready, and write, I can say to myself. Just write and write and write and write, and maybe eventually, it’ll all come together.

Must You Experience Something To Write About It?

J.K. Rowling never attended a school for wizards and witches, or at least that is the common theory. Surely, if wizards did exist, might they be outraged that a simple Muggle speaks for their struggles, their experience? What is an experience, or rather “the experience” of any certain group? Maybe Rowling need not fear backlash from wand-wielding cloak-wearers, but what about writers who write outside of their experience?

Not every crime writer started out as a detective or cop or anything more than a college graduate. Beyond the need for clearly explaining the real world aspects of jobs writers may not have, they may approach a lifestyle they have never approached. Generally, when I pick up a book by Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou, I can expect their depictions of growing up black and female in America to be accurate. Of course, those experiences do not encompass everyone’s experience, but they make a good representative example.

But what about when I write about being a black female in America? Could my words be taken just as solidly as theirs? After all, it would merely be a representative experience, right? The problem arises that I don’t know what it’s like to be black or female, and although I could research “what it’s like” and read endless books, I may never really know. That’s okay: I’ll write about it anyways.

Because no one can put their feet in everyone’s shoes. We can do only what we can, right? If I only wrote about bookish middle-class white males from Aiken, South Carolina, I might as well write a memoir. All that Write What You Know tripe, it rings true to a certain extent, but it can seriously mangle creativity. And if you never attempt to replace your eyes with the eyes of another, you’ll never learn their perspective.

I thought about this dilemma while outlining a new story about gay homeless teens in New York. I’m not gay, and I’m not homeless. I’ve never even been to New York, but I still think I can write the story. Of course I’ll do research, just like I did research when Is tarted my newest novel about boxing. I did not know anything about boxing culture or rules or even dress, but I learned. You read and read and talk to people who know what it’s like to be whoever you’re writing. Often, I base my stories off of real-life events or ideas or groups, but I don’t pretend to be an expert in any of them.

Surely, Thomas Harris never ate a single human being before penning Silence of the Lambs.

When I began In Lickskillet, one of the characters seemed to be half-black, half-white. There was no reason for it, but that’s how he looked in my mind, and I didn’t shy away from addressing his perspective. Maybe I was wrong, and maybe I assumed many egregious things, but I tried.

There is no gay experience or black experience, only the stereotypical ideas about such experiences. Either there is only one experience (the human experience) that we can all understand, or there are infinite experiences (meaning none of us will ever fully understand one another). My job as a writer is to try to understand, even though I know I can’t.

What do you think? Should authors tackle difficult subjects they’ve never encountered firsthand or act more like journalists?

East Bay Meeting House Poetry Open Mic

This is a video of a performance in Charleston at the East Bay Meeting House. Hopefully, you’ll like these poems “Ode to W.W.” and “A Southern Voice,” and soon, I can upload more videos of my performances. I perform nearly weekly at this venue and others. Keep a look out for further videos.

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Breathing Room

When life begins to roar, deafening who you are, it helps to seek solitude, retreat into yourself. Remind yourself beauty exists all around you– there are reasons for the things you do, reasons bigger than you. Poems clang around in your head like men with pinball hammers, ice picks, and dynamite trying to break out.

I am happy to report I have been writing regularly, though disjointedly to fit my schedules into schedules– school has recently swollen to consume much of my time. Between trying to write fiction and trying to complete school work and trying to have a semblance of a social life, I haven’t written many blog posts. I will try to remedy that this weekend, as I have been working on a multi-part post which may interest many of you.

In the meantime, I am producing fiction I might actually get paid for, which I’ll attempt to publish. While editing “In Lickskillet,” I have also written two short stories– one is not done yet. I have, however, for both a supreme confidence that you will either find them enlightening or comical or both. When (yes, I mean WHEN, not IF) I publish these somewhere, Word Salad will be the first place I post up links and information. All of this, of course, is quite exciting. I’ll report more after my Fall Break begins.

Progress Burning Into Blooms

Today, I’m getting things done. I mean, done in the sense Larry the Cable Guy would do them.

10:30, and an end to my work looms in the near future. Of course, I have still have two classes to labor through, but I’ve already completed the homework for both, and then what?

I have been editing “In Lickskillet” recently, and I have been reading a lot of novels (and comic books) recently. I have been tearing through text books and calculating mathematical things on my calculator. There is nothing more freeing and sigh-worthy than the rush of completing projects, from finishing what needs to be finished, doing what needs to be done.

The human mind aspires to a perfection it may never reach, but in reaching, we achieve so much. What I’m interested in is the burning. The burning of the mind, as if we’ve stored fat up there and we’re replacing it with tireless muscle. There are those that survive to flick fluff from their ears and cram in knowledge, and I’m obsessed with the flames, the burning of progress that spins its wheels into the future.

Everything we do becomes a mystery we’re solving, not just the stars and the galaxies and the inner-lives of the janitors that scrub our toilets, but everything. From calculus limits to ominously long German verbs to the mechanisms of political campaigns. Whether we’re consuming knowledge of the Kreb’s cycle or the mechanical workings of a motorcycle, we’re burning. We’re lighting scrolls on fire in our own minds, collecting the smoke at the top of our skulls and exhaling it into the world.

I suppose what I mean to say is, the beauty and joy of life is in the striving, the struggle, the progress. Once we’ve finished growing the flowers in our tiny dirt plot, we can admire how they bloom so colorful, but until then we must relish the dirt beneath our nails, the sweat on our lips as we shovel and till and plant.

So, apart from homework and studying, I’ve been editing this novel I have a lot of faith in. Not just faith, but belief– passionate conviction. Right now, I’m still snipping the rotten buds, pricking my fingers on all the thorns I accidentally cultivated, spilling blood onto pages to bring something strange and colorful to life.

And hopefully soon, while I wash the dirt from my raw hands, you can view the blooms that may come.

When I Decided To Become “A Writer”

I had always been a storyteller, ever since I could talk, though when I was young, I could say very little due to a speech impediment. Maybe I told stories to only myself before I ever learned to give the stories to others, like ghetto-wrapped gifts, the corners of loose leaf paper sticking out the edges of the package.

Maybe the lack of speaking much or the lack of friends not speaking resulted in propelled me to read constantly, almost ferociously, as if I were in contest with every other six year old. I remember being incredibly proud in first grade of having read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when most kids my age could not read at all. So maybe it was only natural that by age eleven, I finally announced I would be a writer.

While my parents sat watching some sitcom on TV, I marched into the room and announced my plan. I would write a book, I said, and then I would publish it. At the age of eleven, I possessed very little actual knowledge of the publishing industry. I believed that once I wrote the book, I needed only send it to “The Publisher” so he could sell it for millions of dollars. Then I would drop out of school and never have to deal with stupid long division again or memorize the capitals of all the states or write in cursive (why did we do that again? I still can’t write in cursive.)

At the time, the family shared a desktop computer in my parents’ room, and any time they were not paying taxes or my brother wasn’t loading extremely long movies, I would write. I was not just going to be another kid who liked to write, either. I’d be a WRITER, which would mean I was published. Now, as you get older, the level of publishing changes. For example, I have now published some short stories, poems, and numerous journalistic articles, but that makes me a WRITER, not an AUTHOR. And maybe, I also would like to be an AUTHOR soon. Still, I charged on ahead with unbridled optimism that I could write better than at least most eighth graders.

By now, I had already given up on “kid novels.” If anyone was to take me seriously as a writer, I needed to read the great classics. I’m not sure I read anything else until maybe ninth grade. In a way, this helped immensely, immersing myself in such great works of literature so young. Now, however, I often return to comic books and YA novels because they are really fantastic, and why didn’t I read these while it was socially acceptable to do so? Oh well, I’ll make up for it now.

Also, when I began writing this novel which had something to do with a guy named Mr. Capri and a guy name Mr. Paradox collecting jewels to become magical and evil, I used 24-point font. Obviously, by using such large font, I could write more pages and therefore be seen as more intelligent and impressive.

“Derek, you wrote a 300 page novel?”

“Yes, I actually wrote ten novels.”

Fifth grade: the year of a ten novel series, each maybe ten thousand words each. Then again, combine all these, and at least I wrote something truly novel-length. Of course I would go on to try to write many more novels over the year, roughly a different project each year. I learned to query and all about publishing, and I began building credentials from shorter things I had written. Eventually, I started this blog and wrote a new novel that I’m quite excited about and may actually be worth publishing.

Back to fifth grade…

Most of the names did not stick, although Mr. Paradox was probably the best villain name ever. My main character, I named Declin. I asked my mom what a good name would be. She was reading a book by an author named Declan, so she simply told me that. I misspelled the name, of course, and that spelling stuck with me. I vowed back in the fifth grade to use “Declin” as a character name in whatever novel I published first. I held myself true to my word at eleven. Go check yourself: new novel, same name.

But I am still proud of myself for that feat. Fifth grade ain’t easy for anyone, especially someone just then learning to speak properly and socialize with, you know, “other people.” This story does not signify anything, only it tells a story. Sometimes stories must be told, though. Sometimes, I am arrested by the need to tell a story, say something, so I sit down and write it, even if it might not mean something. Perhaps that even more than wanting to be taken seriously, that caused me to transcribe that first battle of good and evil between Declin and Mr. Paradox.

Maybe even today, I’m still telling stories just to tell them, not because they might mean something, the themes bold and life-changing. But simply because they are stories, and when you’re a writer and have a story to tell, you can’t not tell it.

Everything Ends

This morning, I would finish my novel. The night before, I had written the penultimate chapter to what would be what I considered my best work. The climax finished, I needed only wrap up the story in a few hundred words. I went to bed early, anticipating waking early for work the next morning. When I woke too early, I lay in bed thinking exactly how the story would end. Not that it would end, because no story truly ever ends, but where would I stop following these wonderful people, recording them through the lens of fiction?

This morning, I thought. It would have to be this morning. College looms, and maybe if I don’t finish soon, I may never finish, never decide on a conclusion. Even if it isn’t any good, even if I have to change it, at least something will be written. I will feel that much closer to being finished.

And maybe finishing In Lickskillet makes me feel finished with high school. Even though I graduated back in June, I’ve still been navigating the social maze of high school within the walls of fiction. Sure, my time at school gave a lot of good source material and inspiration for the novel, but I think I’m ready to finally leave that stage of my life.

But ain’t that the truth? Everything ends.

Every novel has an ending, just like every part of your life does. In my opinion, it doesn’t really flow that smoothly– there are definite

Yes, it is really awesome to go to school in Charleston, thank you!

times when you might think a chapter number would be suitable. Like right now, before I leave for college, I’m ending a chapter, a huge chapter. All about high school and the city of Aiken and the immense impact it has had on me. Most of the characters will bow off stage, maybe not be seen but for cameos. All the history I’ve learned here, I’ll have to learn new history elsewhere. I am cutting off ties, leaving both jobs, and moving onto to bigger things.

Next Friday, I move into a college dorm, and then a new chapter will begin. Maybe I’ll find some new photography studio to work at or a new hip magazine to write for. Maybe not.

New things will come. For example, I’ll start my time in the International Scholars Program at the College of Charleston, which is brand new and is sure to be a wild, enlightening time.

This blog was recently freshly pressed, so maybe there is new life in that. Just because some readers from Aiken might stop reading, I may gain more readers, other readers, both from Charleston and all around the world.

But this morning, I had the satisfying feeling of typing THE END to a novel I feel may be my first major published work. Everything ends, and right now, what’s ending is maybe that part of my career when I’m still working to be a success, still doing little things that might one day add up to big things.

The next chapter?

Well, Hell, who knows what might happen?


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