Monday, September 8, 2014

Celebrating Converse Students and Graduates: A List of Online Pubs

Even I am weary of the constant me-me-me of the blogging/social media life, so I thought it would be fun to help spread the word about some of the publications of the fabulous Converse low-residency MFA students and graduates. And to stave off impatience, I decided to focus on online pubs only…so you can check out their fine writing RIGHT NOW, which I urge you to do.

Presented in random order:

Sarah M. Cooper, Poetry
Graduate, 2014
“Grandma’s House”
 “…Your stairs leading down had one loose board where we would hide pebbles from the lake and bird feathers, ingredients we called them for spells….”

Philip Belcher, Poetry
Graduate, 2011
“Donnie with Baby and Cows 1999”
“…After a minute under the lamp / on my desk, the Guernsey began to glow…”

Lisa M. Hase-Johnson, Poetry
Graduating, June 2015
“…Grandmother preferred them large and a little tough, / refrigerated with a bit of salt….”

Kathleen Nalley, Poetry
Graduate, 2012
“…Baby John Doe they called you, placed / you, once the janitor blew life /
back into your lungs, in a hospital incubator…”

Travis Burnham, Fiction
Graduate, 2013
“The Bone Washer”
“On my very first day I’d been forced into the Preparation Chamber, in amongst the beetles, and the stench and the flesh, and the bones….”

Jeffrey R. Schrecongost, Fiction
Graduate, 2011
“Killing Carol”
“…Jett knew Carol was bringing ugly news. It was her voice, how her voice tottered when she called him that Saturday morning.”

 Scott Laughlin, Fiction
Graduating, Winter, 2016
“The Strange Question of Alberto de Lacerda” [essay]
“…I walked into Alberto's class, called ‘Poetry from Symbolism to Surrealism,’ in 1991, the fall of my senior year at Boston University, and here was a man with a wisp of white hair sort of floating above his balding head, his head turned in slight profile, thus displaying his most prominent feature: his nose. Two pillars disrupted the classroom, and after I sat in one of the only empty chairs, which happened to be behind one of these pillars, he exclaimed, aghast, ‘No, not there! I must see everyone!’ He instructed me to move my chair, which I did, blushing as I screeched the chair across the floor while other students cringed….”

Kyler Campbell, Fiction
 Graduate, 2012
“Caretta, Caretta”
 “…Sometimes when I think about those vacations, I think about Mom and how she’d smile at me and act like Dad didn’t exist at all. I think about how after my tenth birthday, she left us for good….”

 Cinelle Barnes, Creative Nonfiction
Graduating, 2015
“We have banana leaves and we have hands.  We eat with them, these forest-green blades and ten digits. We take the time to wrap our rice, wrap our fish, wrap our yellows, greens and reds, in steamy pockets made of folded foliage….”

Melissa Dickson, Poetry
Graduate, 2012
“A Poem in Flight: Memory and Truth” [essay]
 “…Fortunately for the poet, facts aren’t essential, and the slanted truth is often preferred to the straight. But who is immune to the alternate realities of another’s memory? Who can still the startling in his bones when a lover says, ‘No, your suit was blue and the sky was gray…’”

David Colodney, Poetry
Graduating, 2016
“Her cigarette dangles; she uses puffs for punctuation, / Musky breath floating to me, she calls for another drink…”
Gabrielle Freeman, Poetry
Graduate, 2013
“The Happily Married Woman Boards the Plane”
“…Please don’t order Maker’s Mark and ask if I’d care for one, too, and then toast to new friends and clink the little bottles and say ‘clink’ and wink at me…”
Matthew McEver, Fiction
Graduate, 2014
“Yonder Comes a Sucker”
“…Henry Lee, the darkly pomaded one, lean and muscled, well-read, fiery-eyed and yet infected with misgivings about himself and considered a nobody in a no-name town—circled his enemy, sidled left, missed with a wild swing and tottered sideways….”

Rhonda Browning White, Fiction
 Graduate, 2013
“Good Friends”
“…Doesn’t seem fair that she’s got a grown son and still has a flat belly and perky… well, you know. I don’t talk like that. No sense in mentioning body parts the Lord told us in the Good Book to keep covered….”

I am so proud of all of our fine students, published and soon-to-be published. What a smart and hard-working bunch.  I raise a glass to you!!  (I mean, of course, that after 5 I will…it’s barely 8AM right now!).

Friday, September 5, 2014

Me-Me-Me! And MY Story in Tahoma Literary Review!

Thanks to Tahoma Literary Review for publishing my story “Gratitude Journal.”  It’s a rather bitter and angry story, so I’m happy to find such a delightful home for it…and it’s always exciting to be published in the inaugural issue of a literary journal, almost like getting to crack the bottle of champagne on a new ship sailing off to the deep blue ocean.

And thanks to Tahoma Literary Review for including these sentences in their mission statement: “We at Tahoma Literary Review are committed to producing a literary journal from the professional writer’s perspective; we feel that writers deserve compensation for the weeks or months it takes to compose a publishable poem or story. A major goal of Tahoma Literary Review is to show that writers and publishers can support each other not only artistically, but also financially.”

To top it all off, work by one of my fabulous spring semester Johns Hopkins students, Stefen Styrsky, also appears in this issue:  “Men in White.”

While print and Kindle copies are available (and I recommend you purchase one!), Tahoma Literary Review also offers free PDF downloads.  Information about getting your copy of the journal is right here. (My story is on page 24.)

Here’s the opening to “Gratitude Journal”…perhaps you will get a teeny-tiny glimpse of that bitterness I alluded to??

I’m grateful that—as of today—I am a fifty-year-old woman in America. I’m grateful that when I express distaste for turning fifty, someone will chuckle and say, “Better than the alternative.” I’m grateful that no one listens when I speak—my opinions, my thoughts, my feelings: all are talked over and dismissed—and I’m grateful that a fifty-year-old woman in America might as well be a cockroach, skulking along the dark corners of the culture, something objectionable, an unseen thing scurrying under sudden and blinding light that might illuminate a crepey neck, raised veins, and crow’s feet. I’m grateful for the phrase “crow’s feet” because it’s preferable to have chosen the ugliest, most obnoxious, nastiest bird to stamp all over our faces, so I’m grateful the phrase is not “mockingbird feet” or “chickadee feet.” I’m grateful for birthday cards that joke about adult diapers and being “over the hill” and that claim to have sex secrets for old folks and then open to a cutout mask of a hot blonde twenty year old girl. I’m grateful for my sense of humor because if I couldn’t laugh I would have to find an alternative and that alternative might involve a gun; I’m grateful there are gun laws in my state that make it difficult for me to get a gun because I don’t know what I would do if I had one.

Read more!  And send in your work…Tahoma Literary Review is reading until September 30.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why I Love the Converse Low-Residency MFA Program

October 1 is the deadline for joining us in the next semester at Converse for the low-residency MFA program.  We would love to have you learn more about our program, and if it feels right to you, to apply and start up with us in January. You can get all the important details on the website, here. 

But here’s what the website can’t tell you:

--How personal this program is, how welcoming our students are to everyone, no matter your age, or where you’re from, or what your writing background is, how our students form tight and lasting and forever bonds with one another, how supportive our students are.

--How much the faculty members care, about the art and craft of the written word, about the program, about helping students become better writers.

--How our students succeed—yes, with the expected and exciting book and journal publications and awards—but also in the moments that aren’t listed with a line on a c.v.  I’ve seen major breakthroughs during the course of a semester, and during the course of the program; writing lives have been transformed.  I’ve been inspired by students who have worked harder than I could imagine anyone working to get it right—that ending, the structure of that critical paper—and I have been brought to tears when someone tackles “the” story they know they need to write but have been afraid of, until now, until they find the courage or permission they need.  I’ve read works of precision that started as fast, 15-minute exercises in workshop.  I’ve seen students accomplish amazing things in their work, impossible things, things that have thrilled me as a teacher and a writer and a reader.

--How much we pack into those days of residency, how we forget about the outer world because we’re alive in the world of the word, how each craft talk and lecture and reading and discussion over dinner feels in direct dialogue with the others, how much a head can spin with new ideas and inspiration, how joyful it is to sit with a group of writers past one, two, three in the morning, talking books and beer, telling stories, laughing at jokes where the punchline is “Kafka.”

--How lucky it feels to belong to this vibrant community of writers.

There are lots of writing programs, and I can’t say which one is “best” or even “best for you.”  All I can say is that this program is something special.  Every time I jump in my car to start the drive down south, chills snake my spine, and I push hard on the gas so I get there faster.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Follow Writing Advice--Except When You Shouldn't

As a teacher of writing, I’ve offered much advice and have said many things about writing.  Some of them are even on the following list, “Writing Advice No One Needs Again, Ever,” composed by one of my former students [excerpt below]. (Note:  I am NOT the “inspiration” teacher!) And yet, I try to always add into the mix this piece of advice:  The only rule in writing is there are no rules. (I would like to take credit for this bit of wisdom, but I stole it from one of my teachers.)

What this means to me is that there are lots of guidelines, and plenty of writers before us have come up with general principles and shortcuts and “best practices” that tend to make for a better book/story.  But eventually, writers have to feel free to break those rules as needed.

Of course, the corollary to breaking the rules is that then you also have to find your way to creating the book/story/whatever that succeeds despite ignoring these “best practices”; you have to “make it work” (to quote Tim Gunn on my beloved “Project Runway”).  Sometimes that means you have to experiment and study and fail for years until you get it right.  Or it means you have to be a genius or accidentally stumble into a moment of genius.  Or it means others in the mainstream don’t understand (or appreciate) what you’re doing. It requires immense confidence yet also immense humility.

In the end, though, art is always about knowing the rules and yet knowing how to bend them and when to utterly break them.  Listen to your teacher, but also listen to yourself. 


From the article:

1.  Write what you know. Imagine applying this advice to other areas of life. “Where should I go on vacation?” Stick with what you know, stay home. “Where should I study in college?” Study what you know, that way it’ll be easy. “Who should I marry?” Pick someone whose personality is just like yours. If it’s so obviously stupid in every other facet of life, why would it work for writing?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Someone in Nebraska" Published in Potomac Review!

I’m so pleased to see my story “Someone in Nebraska” published in the always-fabulous Potomac Review.  I wrote this story while in—guess!—Nebraska, last year when I was enjoying my residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts*. And this rarely happens—believe me!—but this was a story that came fast and furiously, actually after a conversation in a bar.  (So you know it’s good!)

Here’s the opening:

You have finally met someone—live and in person—who has seen the white light at the end of the tunnel. She’s a bartender in a small town in Nebraska who had a heart attack when she was forty. “They run in my family,” she says, as if that might be an obvious thing to understand about her. She knows everyone in the bar, everyone except you. You’re the stranger. You must like being the stranger wherever you go. That’s why you go to so many different places. “I was clinically dead for twenty-five minutes,” she tells you. Others in the bar listen, but clearly they’ve heard the story, the minute-by-minute. Only you don’t know, although you know the end: there she is, standing in front of you, bringing you a Bud whenever you ask for one…. 
I’m sorry that it’s not online, but you can order a copy here, on amazon.  While my story is only five pages long, there are lots of other delights in the journal—I especially recommend Thad Rutkowski’s short-short, “Warts and All.”

*The application deadline for the next residency period is September 1! You already know what an inspiring place it is.

Our beautiful cover, "Heron," photographed by Philip Friedman

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Writing in Portugal (Already Dreaming for Next Summer!)

Travel is on my mind…I just returned from Nashville (more about that later!) and I’m on my way to Iowa in 10 days.  Perhaps that’s why I was so taken by this report from a writing conference in Portugal.  Disquiet is the name of the conference, which was co-founded by Scott Laughlin, currently a Converse MFA fiction student. 

On the South85 blog, participant Annie Liontas gives her view of the fabulousness that is Portugal, that is stepping outside daily life, that is, as resident writer Denis Johnson said, “Writ[ing] yourself naked, from exile, in blood”:

“After working in isolation in Philadelphia for the past year, I started to realize that I’ve been waiting to be disquieted for some time. I was ready to be unsettled: I felt it in my bones, the restlessness, the need to find others like me. Somehow I knew I’d have to travel 3,500 miles before I could be reminded that there is but one nation, and that is the nation of writers. “It’s been a long time since I’ve traveled, and never have I traveled for writing. This summer I answered Disquiet’s call, which proclaims that “stepping out of the routine of one’s daily life and into a vibrant, rich, and new cultural space unsettles the imagination, loosens a writer’s reflexes.”….

Warning:  you’ll quickly find yourself longing for a glass of wine….

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Free Online Class about Laura Ingalls Wilder

Here’s a great—FREE—opportunity:  an online class on the work of Laura Ingalls Wilder, taught by Pamela Smith Hill, history faculty at Missouri State University. (As you may recall, I have a special interest in Laura, and made a pilgrimage to one of the towns she lived in, De Smet, South Dakota.)

"Laura Ingalls Wilder: Her Work and Writing Life" starts on September 22, and you can register now.  (Did I say FREE?)  This is a MOOC, which I’ve just learned stands for “Massive Open Online Course,” something universities are exploring (I don’t know why…to increase brand awareness? To educate the world?).

Anyway, all FREE, all online, and all at your own pace.  No college credit, though, so just for fun.

And here’s where to go directly to sign up:

See you in class…I’ll be sitting in the front row, asking lots of questions and trying to suck up to the teacher!


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