Budapest Writers’ Lab

The time has arrived: introducing my long-planned, worried-over expansion into teaching writing. So with much courage and enthusiasm, I give you the Budapest Writers’ Lab. The introductory class will be The Basics of Fiction Writing. I am sorry to say that you should probably live in Budapest to attend, though if you want private tuition over the Internet, that is also an option. So, no more excuses. Time to get to work.

The Budapest Writers’ Lab.

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PK On View

Spotted by a friend, Petra K and the Blackhearts at Powells bookshop in Portland Oregon.

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Blurb-roll: The Devil is a Black Dog

“This is one of the most honest books I have ever read. The author forgoes the journalistic altruism and moral obligation that books on reporting in crisis regions typically, disingenuously emphasize. Instead, The Devil Is a Black Dog is a truly authentic dive into the psyche, spirituality, and frailty of mankind. Jászberenyi deftly portrays all that through the lenses of both situations accessible to Western readers and exotic circumstances in a region regarded as violent and rife with hardship.” — Brian Dabbs (New York Times, Al-Jazeera)

“Fierce, tight, and violent – beautifully constructed, tough, exciting prose.” — György Dragomán

“Jászberényi is brutally frank in his stories of how the civil strife–wracked Africa and Middle East have not only demeaned the value of life and death but also killed the sensitivity of reporters and photographers to these horrors even while they seek to provoke the moral outrage of the outside world.” –David Ottaway, former Washington Post correspondent in Africa and the Middle East

More to come. Or not. It’s a good book regardless.

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Travel Writing Course: Budapest

The poster for a micro writers workshop I am running in Budapest, Hungary.

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Pride and Prejudice: Why should you hire a professional to critique your manuscript

You just completed a manuscript, and are wondering just what you’ve got. Is it gripping from the start? Does the plot flow? Are the characters fully realized? Is it any good? It’s time to get it out there to some readers and find out.

Friends and family – though as perceptive as any readers you are likely to find – come to your work with a certain disposition. They love you, they have invested in you; they truly want you to succeed. Moreover, they are proud of what you have done. And they should be. Finishing a book is a huge accomplishment; and the writer, particularly if they are somebody we care about, deserves our encouragement and support. With this inevitable (and healthy) attitude, a reader who knows us well will be attracted to the strong points in the manuscript, and will likely – intentionally or not – overlook the weaknesses. It’s like accepting the shortcomings of a romantic partner. Without the ability to see past their flaws, we would simply be unable to participate in any enduring relationship.

As a writer, where does that leave you? A truly honest manuscript critique can only be performed by somebody who has no preconceptions of you as a person; who is not afraid to be blunt, and can deliver impartial, honest feedback: somebody who is not prejudiced in your favor. It also helps if your reader has a lot of experience in the field. You need an ally, not a friend. At Wordpill, I don’t want to be your friend, in the best way possible. Check the Manuscript Critique page for details.

Matt Ellis is an author coach and manuscript editor at Word Pill Editing. Have a look here for an affordable Manuscript Critique.

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The Case for László Sárközi

Some day you will be able to talk about László Sárközi without having to mention that he is a Roma (and one of the very few Roma poets publishing in Hungary today). But now, for better or worse, he is burdened with that mantle and all the expectation and associations that come with being a gypsy writer in post-communist Central Europe.

Pilvax was lucky enough to be the first literary review to publish Sárközi in English. But getting Sárközi in print proved to be a challenge. For starters, he is not an easy man to find. I had to go through an intermediary, who kept promising me Sárközi, but whenever we were supposed to meet, the writer was indisposed. I finally did catch up with him, at a private writers’ canteen in Pest. He could only manage to make a scrawl on the publishing agreement as his writing hand was mostly unusable due to an incident that was either a bar fight or a slip on the pavement (the explanation was vague, as was about everything that came from Sárközi’s mouth). The second time I met him, he was in a hospital near Marczibányi Tér, where he was recovering from another mysterious accident, which left him slightly crippled. When offered cab fare to attend a reading of his work, he declined, preferring to take the tram. He did show up at the reading though, along with a gang of thuggish guys who tried the patience of just about everybody around them. Later I was informed that they were his former residents of the orphanage he was raised in.

There are many stories surrounding Sárközi and talking to him in person did little to distinguish the truth from the mythologizing. I know he was raised in an orphanage, and was discovered and mentored by the infamous Hungarian poet György Faludy. It is also said he was homeless (unlikely – there are relatively few homeless gypsies in Budapest – they tend to squat or live communally). What is for sure is that he is forever getting in accidents or otherwise injuring his body, his place of residence is constantly changing, and anybody seriously interested in contemporary Hungarian poetry knows his name. Sárközi may be obscure as a person, but his poetry blossoms in gorgeous imagery and is chiseled and rigorous in style. He is a genuine talent, and perhaps a genius. And, what he has made for himself in this life, he made through the craft of poetry, which is unlikely for a person of any race.

Below is a portion of László Sárközi’s Inner World: A Sonnet Wreath, expertly translated by Andrew Singer (the entire fifteen sonnet cycle was previously published in Pilvax Issue Three.


I. Night

I walk the valley of green and silent dreams
and still don’t know where I will be tomorrow;
my moods propel me, they drive me far,
anticipating night, craving respite.
Nightfall is a scaly wound, and then
night’s well holds the moon – a brave warrior’s fate
in shining armor; recoiling to die again.
Down endless streets, new streets run
and where this movement ends, I’ve no idea.
I straddle the border-stone, gazing at naught.
Cold flash, and yellow lamp regards me,
light glints off blue-musted cobblestones:
with ten thousand solitudes, the night caresses,
where a black moon renders every shadow brown.
II. Beggar’s Sonnet

Where a black moon renders every shadow brown,
from a dirty cardboard box a beggar coughs,
his dog poking him – “Leave me, it still hurts so…” –
and eying his master in a Faithful Zen Ring.
The dwarf shifts cannily; no one cares;
he is crawling now on backward-facing knees;
now he throws his cup pugnaciously down:
dawn’s anger recoils on marble walls.
So I wandered by with pocketed hands
and spat into the beggar’s jolting cup –
may the rest be veiled and then forgotten…
but neither of us turned lighter from it.
I’m wretched: good intention has died in me.
My twenty-nine years are just a giddy game.
III. Facing Eternity

My twenty-nine years are just a giddy game,
one day I am ornate; the next I’m plain,
an endless whirl of good and bad design.

My life is like a dream – it comes to naught,
realizing absurdly the weight of the grave –
nor is the stone’s perfume enjoyed in moss.

Whatever I build is in vain, for windmills
and dusty lips are rumbling from the past,
for all is fleeting that once was joy:
the once-shining diamond shall be as ash.

My light fades, morning falls to night –
Once you regaled the evergreen dark
Pandora: a box forever opened, as
I go on – shivering, wounded by light.

About the author: Matt Ellis is an author coach and manuscript editor at Word Pill Editing. Have a look here for an affordable Manuscript Critique.

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