Monday, October 5, 2015

Why Readers Ask "Did It Really Happen?"

I have a piece up on Literary Hub today, pondering why readers always want to know if the events in a novel or short story “really happened”:

As a fiction writer, it’s my job to fool you, to trick you into thinking that something happened, that the woman riding the Greyhound with the ring of mosquito bites on her upper arm exists, that the just-baked pie cooling on the cork trivet on the table is apple not pumpkin. We want to believe. That’s why we pick up stories, because we want to be carried off into this distant world; what happened next, we whine, did the boy get the girl? So why can’t you relax into the story, why must you ask the question, oh readers, or wonder in the secret places of your heart, or pretend you don’t care but then do a little research into the author’s life: Did it really happen? If writers were leading the complicated and conflicted lives they write about, they wouldn’t have much (any?) time for writing. We love to think writers are more interesting than the average person, but I’m not sure that’s true. Some are, some aren’t—just like average people. No one is average anyway. Readers are nosy. People are nosy. Part of the question is simple nosiness. But only part. 

Also, you really should subscribe to Literary Hub. Their daily email pulls together the most interesting essays/interviews/literature on writing and writers from around the web. And there’s always something you must read on the Literary Hub itself…in short, perfect for procrastination! Here’s more info:

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Books, Books, and More Books: Shelf-Awareness Column

Everyone loves a list, and today I'm featured on Shelf-Awareness with a list of some of my favorite books and bookish opinions, including this, which will be familiar to long-time blog readers who lived the Moby-Dick experience with me:

Book you most want to read again for the first time: Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I read it later in life, having studiously avoided college classes where it might be required, and I devoted a summer to the project, self-shamed into tackling the Great American Novel. I read as a reader, savoring the prose and not worrying about footnotes and English department interpretations, and I often found my way to the pages at four in the morning thanks to a bout of insomnia, startled to find myself immersed in a postmodern book written before modernism was a twinkle in anyone's eye. I cried when I reached the end as Labor Day loomed, and honestly considered starting the whole thing over again right then. It remains the most majestic and perfect reading experience of my life.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Interview about This Angel on My Chest

An interview about my new book on writer Caroline Leavitt’s book blog:

“Grieving a loss, to me, is not getting back to normal and carrying on as if nothing has changed; it’s understanding that absolutely everything has changed, and finding the strength to forge a new path to an unexpected destination.”

Friday, September 18, 2015

Link Corral...NOT About Me!

Feeling discouraged about your writing and the marketplace at the moment? Then read this, immediately; the title is “Should I Just Give Up on My Writing?”:

…It's not good to pretend that you DESERVE rare success, and it's also not good to tell yourself that you're just another faceless member of the crowd. You can empathize and connect with other writers and still believe in some ineffable magic that wells up from deep inside of you. I sure as hell do. Sometimes! But that still doesn't mean that you or I DESERVE SUCCESS. We don't deserve MORE, you and me. We're lucky to be writing for a living. Hell, we're lucky just to be here…. So what do we deserve? We deserve to work really hard at what we love. That's a privilege. We deserve that....


I’m distraught that I won’t be able to attend this reading on October 4 at the Writer’s Center: poet Tanya Olson.  Her book Boyishly is wonderful, and the title poem is one of my all-time faves. You should get yourself to this reading in my place—and thank me later. (Read one of her poems here and learn more about the book.)

Sun, 4 Oct, 2015
2:00 PM - 5:00 PM

 Emerging Writer Fellowship recipient Tanya Olson reads from Boyishly, her collection of poems. She is joined by Nancy Carlson, who reads from recently published translations, Abdourahman Waberi’s The Nomads, My Brothers, Go Out to Drink from the Big Dipper, and Calazaza's Delicious Dereliction by Suzanne Dracius.

The reading will be followed by a reception and book signing. Tanya Olson lives in Silver Spring, Maryland and is a Lecturer in English at UMBC. Her first book, Boyishly, was published by YesYes Books in 2013 and received a 2014 American Book Award. In 2010, she won a Discovery/Boston Review prize and was named a 2011 Lambda Fellow by the Lambda Literary Foundation. 

The Writer's Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815Free admissionDetails:


Finally, no link, but I loved this description of the writing process in Ann Patchett’s collection of essays, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. This is from “The Getaway Car,” which was also released as a Kindle single, but apparently it’s no longer available. Anyway:

…For me it’s like this: I make up a novel in my head (there will be more about this later). This is the happiest time in the arc of my writing process. The book is my invisible friend, omnipresent, evolving, thrilling. During the months (or years) it takes me to put my ideas together, I don’t take notes or make outlines; I’m figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an oversized butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose window in Notre Dame. This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that  my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see. 

And so I do. When I can’t think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It’s not that I want to kill it, but it’s the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Just to make sure the job is done I stick it into place with a pin. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing—all the color, the light and movement—is gone. What I’m left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That’s my book….

More about This is the Story of a Happy Marriage:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Link Corral...of Good News!

Goodness! An embarrassment of riches over here, so let me offer a few links and you can pick and choose or ignore altogether, as you see fit. There will NOT be a test at the end—though if there were, because I’ve been watching a lot of “Jeopardy!” lately, I suspect the answers would be in the form of questions.


First, I’m thrilled that Kirkus Review has named THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST as one of “9 Books You Shouldn’t Overlook”--!!


I wrote a short piece for BookRiot about the books that I read while grieving the loss of my husband. As I wrote, I thought about the so-called stages of grief:

Denial Before the funeral, a friend handed me a copy of A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, the classic book about loss in which Lewis offers a diary-like glimpse of his life following his wife’s death and his meditations on his struggle to understand this pain. It’s a heartbreaking book, but I felt a sense of numb distance as I read. This poor guy, I thought, he’s so sad. There’s no quick and jolly conclusion, no “and then I lived happily ever after,” which should have signaled something to me. But I was in denial, and this book let me rest there a little longer....


My dear friend and writing pal Marty Rhodes Figley invited me to write a foodie piece for her blog, so I wrote, “Love, and Welsh Rabbit,” which includes a beloved recipe:

I didn’t realize that the death of a loved one brings along with it an additional thousand tiny losses, some of which are not immediately apparent. In my case, because I love to cook, and Robb (and I) loved to eat, it turned out there were recipes I could no longer make because eating and preparing those particular dishes made me sad....

P.S. One of my favorite picture books is Marty’s Emily and Carlo, about poet Emily Dickinson and her dog. Read more about it here:


In case you missed the previous post, I was interviewed by Barrelhouse editor Dave Housley about THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST and Patrick Swayze:

In each story in this collection, a young husband dies suddenly. Obviously, that plotline (such as it is!) could get awfully repetitive, so as my writing progressed, I found myself playing with form, which was a stylistic departure for me (and so fun!)… 


And last, but not least—but not linkable—the new issue of River Styx, the fabulous literary journal based in St. Louis, arrived in my mailbox. It’s the REVENGE issue (oh, juicy!!) and it contains my story, “Bad Girl” (which is a section from my novel-in-progress):

            …He wore a blue shirt—nothing special, something vaguely denim with white buttons that were more lustrous than regular white buttons. Faded, milky blue, soft to the touch. Well, I didn’t know it was soft because I couldn’t touch it, not even the sleeve, not even that way girls might laugh too long at a dumb joke, that laugh the excuse to seize the guy’s arm. Flirting 101.            But I wasn’t allowed to do that with him, with my best friend’s boyfriend….

Here’s more information about River Styx:

Also, whatever you do, do check out the journal’s gallery of amazing and hilarious cover letters, all reprinted with permission, so no gratuitous mocking:


Okay, there IS a short, Jeopardy-style quiz:

Answer: Infinity x 1000

Question: How grateful is Leslie on a scale of 1 to 10?

Monday, September 14, 2015

Interview with Barrelhouse and Conversations & Connections Writing Conference

I’m happy to be interviewed by Dave Housley, one of the editors over at Barrelhouse, which is a wonderful literary journal and also a literary empire, responsible for—among many things—organizing and hosting one of my favorite one-day writing conferences: Conversations & Connections. 

I’m excited to be taking part as a speaker at the Pittsburgh conference, which will be held on October 10 this year. Participants receive a free book, a literary journal subscription, enjoy a day of panels about writing and publishing, and have the chance to meet with lit journal editors…and to top it all off, continue the conversation over Boxed Wine Happy Hour! There is space available if this sounds as irresistible to you as it is to me! (Oh, and only $70 for all of this!)

Okay, the interview! I’ll only give a short teaser here because I say lots of things about writing and about my new book. But I also answer this question:

Okay, we need to wrap up with the standard Barrelhouse interview finisher: What’s your favorite Patrick Swayze movie?

You know you (vaguely) want to know, if only to pick a fight about my choice!

Learn more about the fabulous Conversations & Connections conference:

Friday, September 4, 2015

Fall Reading Schedule for THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST!

Here are my open-to-the-public fall reading dates for THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST. Send your friends & family, and bring your own sweet self! I worked really hard on this book and it is time to CELEBRATE!

Wednesday, September 30
6 PM
Fall for the Book Festival
George Mason University
Fairfax, Virginia
Research Hall, Room 163
More information:

Thursday, October 8, 2015
7 p.m.
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
One Schenley Park
Pittsburgh, PA 
More information: and 412.383.2493

Saturday, October 10, 2015
9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Conversations & Connections Writing Conference
Chatham University
N Woodland Rd
Pittsburgh, PA
Featured speaker

Thursday, October 15, 2015
1 pm
Montgomery College
Rockville Campus
Conversation & reading

Science Center 152

Saturday, October 17, 2015
6 PM
Politics & Prose Bookstore
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC
More information:

Saturday, October 24, 2015
4:30 PM
Wisconsin Book Festival
Madison, WI

Tuesday, October 27, 2015
8 p.m.
Converse College
Bain Room, Wilson Hall
580 East Main Street
Spartanburg, SC

November 2, 2015
6:00 – 7:30 PM
Chop Suey Books
2913 W. Cary St
Richmond, VA 23221

For more information:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015
5:30 P.M.
Northwestern University
University Hall 201
1897 Sheridan Rd.

Evanston, IL 60208

Thursday, November 12, 2015
5 p.m.: social
5:30 p.m.: reading
6:00 p.m.: signing
Powell's Books Chicago (University Village)
1218 S. Halsted St.
Chicago, IL
More information:

Sunday, November 15, 2015
2 p.m.
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD
More information:

Tuesday, November 17
5:30 -8:30
National Press Club Book Fair
5:30 – 8:30 PM
The National Press Club
38th Annual Book Fair & Authors’ Night
529 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC
Fundraiser to support The SEED Foundation

For more information:

More to come!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.