Thursday, February 2, 2017

Survival Tips for #AWP17!

Survival Tips for AWP17!

Welcome, writers, to our nation’s capital! You will fit in here, with our town’s culture of perfectionist strivers and intellectual conversationalists. DC is a city that reads (the nation’s third-readingest city, according to this study)…though some may prefer wonky policy books to lovely volumes of poetry. We dress in black or Ann Taylor, are verbal with excellent punctuation skills, freak out at a flake of snow, don’t mind being thought of as “the East Coast elite,” have a chip on our shoulders about New York City, and celebrate our diverse community. We welcome newcomers and tourists, as long as they stand to the right (never the left!) on our Metro escalators…and we don’t like you-know-who either.

So, twelve thousand? Fifteen thousand? A LOT of writers surging into town for #AWP17! You won’t be wearing matching T-shirts like the spring school groups, and don’t want to look like tourists, I know, but take that moment to soak in what tourist DC does best: grand old monuments of glimmering stone, most beautiful in dusky twilight. They have endured, our democracy will endure (fingers crossed), and you can endure and prevail at AWP! Here are my tips for success based on my experience at past conferences:

Wear comfortable shoes, at least most of the day. There’s lots of traipsing around long hallways and the long (sometimes uncarpeted) aisles of the book fair. It’s also inevitable that the one panel you really, really, really want to see will be in a teeny-tiny room and you’ll have to stand in the back…or sit on the floor; see the following tip:

Wear comfortable clothes, preferably taking a layer approach. Wherever you go, you will end up either in A) an incredibly stuffy room that will make you melt, or B) a room with an arctic blast directed at you. Bulk up and strip down as needed. Also, as noted above, the AWP conference staff has a knack for consistently misjudging the size of room required for a subject matter/speakers (i.e. Famous Writer in room with 30 chairs; grad student panel on Use of Dashes in Obscure Ancient Greek Poet in room with 300 chairs), so you may find yourself scrunched into a 2’x2’ square on the carpet; see the following tip:

To avoid being stuck sitting on the floor, arrive early to panels you really, really want to attend. If you are stuck on the floor, hold your ground with a big bag and/or coat to get yourself some extra space. Whatever you do, do not be nice and squeeze over…those panels can seem VERY LONG when someone’s knee is wedged in your ribs. (Any resulting bad karma will be worth it.)

If a panel is bad, ditch it. Yes, it’s rude. Yes, everyone does it. (Be better than the rest by at least waiting for an appropriate break, but if you must go mid-word, GO.) I can’t tell you the high caliber of presenters that I have walked out on, but think Very High. Remember that there are a thousand other options, and you have choices. The only time you have to stick it out is if A) the dull panel participant is your personal friend or B) the dull panel participant is/was your teacher or C) the dull panel participant is your editor/publisher. Those people will notice (and remember) that you abandoned them mid-drone and punish you accordingly (i.e. your glowing letters of rec will instead incinerate). Undoubtedly this is why I have never been published in Unnamed Very High Caliber Magazine, having walked out on the editor’s panel.

There are zillions of panels: When you pick up your registration badge, you’ll get a massive tome with information about all of them, and also a shorter schedule that’s easy to carry around. Take some time right away to read through the tome and circle the panels you want to attend on your master schedule. Then ditch the tome. Better yet, go to the AWP website now and scroll through the schedule tome and decide now where you want to be when. And best of all, use the “my schedule” planning feature on the online schedule to mark the events you’re interested in and keep that stored on your favorite technology (mine is a sheaf of printed paper…which may be smart since I often forget how/where to re-access “my schedule,” which requires logging in and somehow finding “my account”).  Anyway…no point waking up early on Friday if there’s nothing you want to attend. I checkmark panels I might go to if nothing better is going on and star those that I will make a supreme effort to attend. Give yourself a couple of options at each time slot so that if a room is too crowded, you have an interesting alternative.

Someone will always ask a 20-minute question that is not so much a question but a way of showing off their own (imagined) immense knowledge of the subject and an attempt to erase the (endlessly lingering) sting of bitterness about having their panel on the same topic rejected. Don’t be that person. Keep your question succinct and relevant. Maybe even write it down first, before you start to endlessly ramble. If you are “that person,” everyone will mimic your annoying question to their friends in the bookfair aisle, and your career is over.

Don’t say anything gossipy on the elevator, unless you want the whole (literary) world to know it. Do listen up to the conversations of others on the elevator, and tell your friends what you’ve overheard over your offsite dinner, embellishing as necessary.

Same advice above exactly applies to the overpriced hotel bar.  Also, if you happen to get a chair at the bar, or, goodness, EVEN A REAL LIVE TABLE, hang on to it!!  People will join you if they see you’ve got a spot!  Famous people!  I mean it: the only reason to ever give up a table in the hotel bar is because the bar has shut down, you’ve consumed every bit of liquid in the clutter of glasses, and a beefy bouncer is headed your way.

Speaking of famous people or former teachers or friends…do not say something like this in one long breathless opening sentence right after hugging hello: “Great-to-see-you-can-you-write-a-blurb-letter-of-rec-piece-for-my-anthology?” Ask for favors AFTER the conference! I mean, unless you enjoy that uncomfortable moment and awkward triumph of trapping someone into saying yes.

Support the publications at the bookfair. Set a budget for yourself in advance, and spend some money on literary journals and books and subscriptions, being sure to break your budget. Do this, and then you won’t feel bad picking up the stuff that’s been heavily discounted or being given away free on the last day of the conference. But, please, do spend some money! These journals and presses rely on OUR support.

Just because something is free, you don’t have to take it. Unless you drove, you’ll have to find a way to bring home all those heavy books/journals on an airplane. Or you’ll have to wait in line at the hotel’s business center or the UPS store at the convention center to ship them home. So, be as discerning as you can when you see that magic markered “free” sign on top of a pile of sad-looking journals, abandoned by the grad students with hangovers who didn’t feel like dealing with their university's bookfair table.

Try not to approach the table of each journal at the bookfair with this question:  “How can I get published in your journal?” Also, I recommend avoiding this one: “How come you didn’t publish my poem/story/essay/screed?”  Try instead: “What a beautiful journal. Please tell me more about it.” Even better: “I’m thinking about subscribing.”

It may be too late for some of you, but it’s inevitable that you will see every writer you’ve ever met in the aisle of the bookfair at one AWP or another…so I hope you were nice to all of them and never screwed anyone over. Because, yes, they will remember, and it’s not fun reliving all that drama as the editors of The Georgia Review gaze on.

Pre-arrange some get-togethers with friends/teachers/grad student buddies, but don’t over-schedule. You’ll run into people, or meet people, or be invited to a party, or find an amazing off-the-beaten-track bar.  Save some time for spontaneity! (Yes, I realize that I’m saying “plan” for spontaneity.)

Don’t laugh at this, but bring along Purell and USE IT often.  For weeks after, post-AWP Facebook status updates are filled with writers bemoaning the deathly cold/sore throat/lingering and mysterious illness they picked up at AWP.  We’re a sniffly, sneezy, wheezy, germy bunch, and the thought of 12,000 of us packed together breathing on each other, shaking hands, and giving fake hugs of glee gives the CDC nightmares.

Along the lines of healthcare, don’t forget to drink a lot of water and pop an Advil before going to sleep if (haha…if!) you’ve been drinking a little more than usual. (Also note that AWP offers a daily 12-step meeting open to all in recovery. Please take care of yourself!)

Escape! Whether it’s offsite dinners/drinks/museums/walks through park/mindless shopping or whatever, do leave at some point. You will implode if you don’t. 

This is a super-secret tip that I never share, but I’ll share it as a reward for those who have read this far:  there will be a bathroom that’s off the beaten track and therefore is never crowded. Scope out this bathroom early on. Don’t tell anyone except your closest friends the location of this bathroom.

Finally, take a deep breath.  You’re just as much of a writer as the other 11,999 people around you.  Don’t let them get to you.


If you're interested, I will be on the following panel. I’ll be reading from “Slut,” a story included in my collection THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST, that first appeared in Cimarron Review and which I rarely read.

4:30 pm to 5:45 pm
Liberty Salon I, J, & K, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four

Cimarron Review: 50 Year Anniversary Reading. (Leslie Pietrzyk, Adam Clay, Brenda Peynado, Yun Wang, Toni Graham) The Cimarron Review brings together four previously featured writers from across fiction and poetry to celebrate fifty years of publishing the finest stories, poems, and essays from working writers across the country and around the world to celebrate their 50th anniversary.


And if you'd like to let you-know-who know what you think about's an overview of some planned protests:


Finally, for the best drinks in town, here's my spot (more suitable for an intimate twosome ro foursome, not a giant crowd): The Columbia Room, not too far from the Convention Center. Splurge on the full-out tasting if you've got the $$ and time or enjoy a drink or two in the Tasting Library or Punch Garden. I promise you will thank me!!

And I wasn't kidding about that Metro escalator. Stand to the right and walk on the left.

And this very important P.S.: Check out what DC writer/poet Sandra Beasley has to say about navigating AWP and DC. Her restaurant tips are spot-on!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Flash Fiction!

I have a piece of flash fiction in the new issue of Phoebe, and they kindly put up a link. I wrote this piece in my prompt group (that’s right, in 30 minutes!) and the prompt words were “hammer” and “jacket” (15 minutes on each word). Also, I remember that I decided to try writing without quotation marks, based on a Facebook conversation I’d recently had about their use, and, honestly, that decision ended up feeling significant as I wrote. Advice takeaway: Change up your style!

There’s not much space for an excerpt without printing the whole story, so I’ll give just the first several lines:

You really hammer down the nail, my boyfriend says the second he swipes shut his phone call. Thank you? Not a compliment, he says.

Read the rest—which will take about about 2 minutes—here:

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Best Books (I Read) in 2016

Here are several lists, randomly ordered, starting with the best books I read in 2016 (ignoring publication date). I do not include books by friends on these lists, though, as you’ll see below, I did include a separate, brief list of some of the books my friends published during the year that I read. PLEASE don’t get mad if your book isn’t on there! I just really had to mention some of these books by beloved buddies, and it was hard not to open the floodgates….

And because I realize I didn’t do this write-up in 2015, I tacked on that list as well. I mean, why not? A good book is timeless, right?


Tiny Beautiful Things (Dear Sugar) by Cheryl Strayed: What can I say that hasn’t been said about the wise and empathetic generosity of spirit that Cheryl Strayed brings to her writing? Advice for all of us, and a hug to make you feel loved, sweetpea.

Manhattan ’45 by Jan Morris: New York City! Published in the 1980s, but researched to show us what NYC was like in 1945, at the crossroads of post-war America.

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit: An exploration of love and loss and the creative life, one of the most brilliant books I have read. If I were to meet Rebecca Solnit, I would stare in wonder at her.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler: I can’t resist a girl-goes-to-New-York book, especially when she works in a restaurant! Read this for the New Yorkiness and the food and the astute observations and less for the plot.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren: A classic for a reason. From the very first page of the road unfurling, this story pulls us through the cynical underbelly of politics and the South. (Okay, I got a big bogged down in the family history section, but then I’m from Iowa, not the South!)

Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles: Another girl goes to New York, and writes like the poet she is. Highly readable, so don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I would just read a sentence and set the book aside to ponder the language and its juxtaposition. I don’t get why this is called a novel, but who cares?

Hue and Cry by James Alan McPherson: After he died this summer, I thought it was shameful I’d read only a couple of essays along the way…and I was right. These stories are stunning, especially the first two.

My Body Is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta: This is a flawed book, but when it was good it was very, very good—and inventive. A dark memoir told through a variety of forms, including lists and (especially brilliant) a dialogue with the TV show “Law & Order SVU.”

Toby’s Room by Pat Barker: I entered a phase of British/Irish writers while in residency at the Hawthornden Castle in Scotland and resumed my love affair with Pat Barker and her riveting novels about World War I. This is less-battle intense than the Regeneration Trilogy but no less harrowing. I inhaled it from the early shocker in the first chapter, as did two of my fellow writers in the castle! Bonus: It was exciting to be reading a copy signed by Pat Barker (one of my literary idols) that I found in the Hawthornden library.

A Bit on the Side by William Trevor: Another from the Hawthornden library. I’d read William Trevor in the New Yorker, but these stories were a revelation. I’m not sure if it was these stories all at once or that I was living somewhat in the landscape described, but the spare heartbreak of these stories was gorgeous. Please, sir, may I have some more? Luckily I can, despite his recent death…he wrote lots of books!

Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes: Okay, I didn’t read all of this (I had to return it to the Hawthornden Library and head home). But what I read was a thrill. No wonder Britain is still recovering from this poet’s towering presence. (I read some Sylvia Plath alongside for balance and conversation’s sake.)

As noted, I choose not to include books by my friends on my list, but it seems like I can certainly mention a few books by friends that I read (and loved!) in 2016:

Traveler’s Rest by Keith Lee Morris: snowy, spooky novel
Crash Course by Robin Black: short essays on life and writing
Echoes of the Tattered Tongue by John Guzlowski: wrenching poetry about his parent’s experiences in a German slave camp in WWII
You May See a Stranger by Paula Whyman: linked stories about a woman trying to carve out a life for herself
Invincible Summers by Robin Gaines: Claudia’s father dies, and this 60s-70s era Detroit family falls apart
Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst: a DC couple hopes a parenting guru can save their autistic daughter at this off-the-grid New Hampshire camp
Ghosts of Bergen County by Dana Cann: Ghosts, a dead child, and heroin…a potent combination
Heirlooms by Rachel Hall: linked stories about one Jewish family’s escape from WWII-era France and the burdens they carry into America

As noted, I see that I didn’t put together a list last year, so because I’m compulsive and a completist, here we go, minus the commentary because I have some Christmas tasks to get to!

Best Books (I read) in 2015

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay [essays]
The Love of the Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald [unfinished novel]
The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing [non-fiction]
The Unspeakable  and Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum [essays]
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link [stories]
Redeployment by Phil Klay [stories]
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel [novel…and I’ll butt in to say, this may be the book I’ve recommended the most over the past two years]
The Ice Cave: A Woman’s Adventures from the Mojave to the Antarctic by Lucy Jane Bledsoe [essays…the first two are a little slow IMHO…give it a chance!]
Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger [non-fiction]

And some of my favorite books by my friends in 2015:

Pasture Art by Marlin Barton [stories and a masterful novella]
Watch Me Go by Mark Wisniewski [novel]
My Coolest Shirt by W.T. Pfefferle [poetry]
Count the Waves by Sandra Beasley [poems]
Washing the Dead by Michelle Brafman [novel]
Flying Home by David Nicholson [stories, set in DC]

And onward to 2017! I’ve got stacks of books I want to read, but even more exciting is to think about the random discoveries waiting ahead! Happy reading, everyone!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Milkweed Editions Reading Ms. in 2017

One of my favorite small literary presses has just announced its 2017 reading schedule for unsolicited submissions. Milkweed Editions, based in Minneapolis, publishes top-quality fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry books, and their submission windows are small…so plan ahead!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Since today is misty, and since I'm finally organizing my photos from Scotland, how about a few pictures here? (Okay, how about 18? That's a few, right?)

These will be ready to drink in, oh, fifteen years or so.

A view from Edinburgh Castle: 

So excited to be invited to a private whisky tasting at the Balmoral Hotel! Thanks, Scotch...the best whisky bar in Edinburgh!!

The Last Drop...before your head was chopped off at the guillotine across the square.

Yes, this cheese was as good as it looks!

Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson...Scotland's favorite writers from its seen in:

I became obsessed with stags.

And whisky. And smoked salmon:

This monument to Sir Walter Scott is the largest monument to a writer in the world:

I knew I'd love Hawthornden Castle when I saw this stag outside the garden door:

Did a lot of good writing in this chair:

Lunch was delivered in these cute little baskets:

Another good chair for writing in, this one in the library, where I wrote surrounded by a wall of Paris Reviews:

Isn't this inviting? Residency applications are due in June, though you will have to write to the administrator to have a paper application mailed to internet applications, so plan ahead! Thank you, Mrs. Drue Heinz, for providing this magical castle for ordinary writers like me.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Memoir Your Way: Making Memoir More Inclusive by Joanne Lozar Glenn

I'm delighted to offer blog space to Joanne Lozar Glenn, a  member of my beloved prompt group, who has come out with a fantastic new book that expands the boundaries of memoir beyond the written word.... (If you're wondering if this book might make a good gift for the unconventional memoirist in your life, the answer is YES: it's beautifully produced with lots of lovely full-color photographs and welcoming, reader-friendly design!)

Memoir Your Way: Making Memoir More Inclusive

By Joanne Lozar Glenn

One fall afternoon a few years ago, several colleagues and I were enjoying brunch and sharing stories related to our work with other writers. We soon realized that each of us was creating memoirs in interesting and unconventional forms: cookbooks, scrapbooks, quilts, and more—forms that haven’t traditionally been considered part of the genre. It was an “aha” moment.
Memoir wasn’t just for writers. Memoir could be for everyone.
That moment grew into a book—Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Through Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More (Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2016)—that we hope inspires “history-keepers” to view and create memoir in ways they’d never thought of before.
As memoir creators, teachers, and crafters, we see these history-keepers in our classrooms every day. They are mothers and daughters hoping to preserve family traditions, recipes, and the stories they and their children tell. They are immigrants seeking to bridge their old and new lives and veterans eager to record their war experiences. They are older people revisiting the adventures of their youth, and younger people working it all out as they mine their experience. Our book suggests alternative “containers” these story-keepers can adapt to their purpose.
Extending the written memoir form to cookbooks, comics, quilts, and other multimedia storytelling formats includes rather than excludes would-be memoirists who are not writers. It encourages them to preserve their histories while still adhering to the key principles of memoir:  memoir is a slice of life remembered and reflected upon, and it is always two stories—the memory, and the meaning we make of it.
As memoir writers know, crafting a memoir can be surprisingly satisfying. By bringing our memories into the world in a concrete form, we can step back and see our experiences in a different, and often healing, light. Why restrict this satisfaction to those who have a talent for writing? The last sketch, the last stitch, the last drop of glue can open the door to a whole new way of seeing and even being.
Beyond that, this:  Memories fade, and sometimes history is rewritten. If those memories are not preserved, they’re lost forever.
When we turn memories into memoir, we build a bridge between the past and the future. What better way to do that than to encourage innovative, less text-centric ways of saying, “I was here. I mattered.”?


More information about Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Through Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More (Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2016):


ABOUT: Joanne M. Lozar Glenn (writing workshop and retreat leader) is a member of The Memoir Roundtable, which includes co-authors Natasha Peterson (graphic novelist), Linda Pool (quilter), Nadine James  (children’s literacy consultant), Katherine Nutt (teacher and scrapbooker), and Dianne Hennessy King (food editor and memoir writing teacher).  Their book Memoir Your Way is available in softcover and e-book from and  


Monday, November 21, 2016

Linked Stories, Novels in Stories, and "No-Fault Fiction": Rachel Hall & Michelle Brafman Talk Process

Sometimes I have very brilliant ideas, and if I do say so, this might be my very brilliantiest! Two lovely friends each have published a new book, one a collection of linked stories, the other a novel in stories…so who better to conduct their own interview about the ins and outs of linkage, stories, triptychs, “no-fault fiction,” and how to balance the promotion/writing/life.

 Rachel Hall’s collection of linked stories, Heirlooms, was awarded the BkMk Press 2015 G.S. Sharat Chandra prize, selected by Marge Piercy. Her stories and essays have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Bellingham Review, Crab Orchard Review, Gettysburg Review, Lilith, New Letters, and Water~Stone. In addition, she has received awards and honors from publications such as Lilith and Glimmer Train, and New Letters and from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, as well as Ragdale and the Ox-Bow School of the Arts where portions of Heirlooms were written. She is Professor of English at the State University of New York-Geneseo.
 Michelle Brafman’s short fiction and essays have appeared in Slate, The Washington Post, Tablet, Lilith Magazine, the minnesota review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and numerous other publications. Her debut novel, Washing the Dead, was published by Prospect Park Books in April of 2015, and her second book, Bertrand Court, a novel in stories, is set in Washington, D.C. and was published in September of 2016. She has taught creative writing at The Johns Hopkins MA in Writing Program, the George Washington University, and in smaller workshops throughout the Washington, D.C. area. In 2003, she founded Yeah Write, a writing coaching business.

Heirlooms (by Rachel Hall) begins in the French seaside city of Saint-Malo, in 1940, and ends in the American Midwest in 1989. In this collection of linked stories, the war reverberates through four generations of a Jewish family. Inspired by the author’s family stories as well as extensive research, Heirlooms explores assumptions about love, duty, memory and truth. More information:
Bertrand Court (by Michelle Brafman) intertwines seventeen luminous narratives about the secrets of a cast of politicos, filmmakers, housewives, real es­tate brokers, and consultants, all tied to a suburban Washington, D.C. cul-de-sac. Linked through bloodlines and grocery lines, they respond to life’s bruises by grabbing power, sex, or the family silver. As they atone and forgive, they unmask the love and truth that hop white picket fences. More information:


RH: You've written a novel, Washing the Dead, besides this collection of linked stories. Did you consider writing Bertrand Court as a novel? How, in your opinion, are linked stories different from a novel? What did the genre offer you that the novel form didn't?
MB: I started writing Bertrand Court about fifteen years ago, and at that point I was pretty dedicated to the short story form. That said, I’d read Amy Bloom’s collection Come to Me and fell in love with the idea of writing stories in triptychs. After I’d completed several such groupings of stories, it became apparent to me that all of my characters belonged to the same universe. I had a lot of fun exploring these connections. If I’d written this book as a novel, I’m not sure I would have had the freedom (or maybe the skill) to write about this fictive world from so many different perspectives. I think I also would have felt compelled to tie up loose ends with each of these characters, which I didn’t feel I needed to do here.
It’s funny that you asked this question, though, because as I was reading Heirlooms, I kept thinking that your book was a true “novel in stories.” At times, the book felt like a novel to me, yet each story stands on its own. So now I want to know why you choose this form for your book.  
RH: I love the idea of triptychs!—I may use that for the project I’m working on now. Groups of three are satisfying in a way that a pair isn’t. This also makes me think of Alice Munro’s triptych in Runaway which Pedro Almodóvar has adapted for the film Julieta, and which I’m eager to see.
As far as the linked story form for Heirlooms, I started out thinking I was just writing the first story, “Saint-Malo, 1940.” Then, as I was working on something else—a novel, actually, that I’ve abandoned—I realized there was another story I wanted to tell about Eugenie and Saint-Malo. I gave myself permission to take a day off from the novel (I was on sabbatical from teaching that year) to write that story. When I was done, I understood I had bookends: the first and last stories. I thought I’d turn to Heirlooms when I finished the novel, but I eventually realized that I didn’t really know how to write a novel. Stories, I understand. So in writing Heirlooms in stories, I guess I sort of tricked myself into writing a novel-like book. I’m surprised when people call it a novel, but not at all displeased.
MB: You tricked yourself into writing a novel! Wonderful. And thanks for the heads-up about Julieta! I forgot to mention how much I was influenced by Munro’s The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose, a wonderful novel in stories about a mother and daughter.   
RH: Lots of linked collections look at families and family stories. Do you think this subject matter is particularly well suited to the genre of linked stories?
MB: I’d never thought of it that way, but yes, I do think that the subject matter is well suited to the genre. Family dynamics are so complicated and juicy and steeped in history, and this form allows the writer to mine these complexities in a different way. For example, you can write a full story about an important piece of family history, whereas in a novel, you might have to rely on a flashback and in turn worry about slowing down momentum of the book.
I’m also a big fan of exploring triangles in relationships, and I think this form lends itself to writing from each “point” of the triangle. I like the term “no fault fiction,” where the reader comes away from a story understanding all characters’ motivations for behaving the way they do (often badly). Readers might not like the characters any better, but they’ll have a context for their actions. You did a masterful job of providing a larger psychic, social, and historical context for your characters’ relationships. I really felt the emotional heft of the family legacies they shouldered. How did you leverage this form to convey all of this? How did you select the moments that would tell this very big story? (Or the stories between the “bookends” you mentioned earlier?)
RH: I also love the idea of no-fault fiction! I’m certainly going to introduce this concept to my students. I’m always looking for ways to get them to explore character without judgment.
As far as which moments became stories in Heirlooms, I worked intuitively, recalling family stories, digging into some, but not finding a clear way in, moving on to something else. I did have access to old photo albums and copies of letters and those provided jumping off points. Near the end of the writing, I realized I needed certain stories like “White Lies” which would pull together a lot of history, and was therefore hard to write.
This question made me remember that I learned another family story after I’d sent off my manuscript. This story isn’t something that would work in another time period or in another book, so it’s a missed opportunity. I think of that story every now and then, like a friend I’ve lost touch with—did you have stories like this, stories that you thought of later or wish you could add? Is this maybe one of the difficulties of the linked story genre—when do you stop?
MB: Yes, when to stop? There’s always that one killer detail that surfaces too late in the game! I tortured myself with this while editing my first book. Because Bertrand Court sat for so long, I had the chance to revisit “friends I’d lost touch with” and write two brand new stories from the perspective of existing characters who seemed to be calling out for a turn to narrate. For example, in “Two Truths and a Lie,” in the aftermath of their father’s death, two sisters, the screw-up and the golden girl, play a game that demands they shuck these tired family labels and truly see and be seen by one another. I’d written a good deal about the “perfect sister,” and it was a lot of fun to write from the pov of the self-proclaimed “family fuckup.” I also wrote the new stories to perhaps serve the same function as “White Lies,” meaning they filled in gaps and threaded together one of the triptychs.
Switching gears, how has it been for you to release these characters and their stories into the world? Have you learned anything new about your book from your readers?   
RH: It’s been thrilling to have this book out in the world. I’ve been really touched by responses from readers, who say that the stories made them think of their family stories in a new light. And sometimes these people tell me their family stories of WWII and that’s been interesting. One gentleman gave me a box of letters from his great aunt, because he thought her story would interest me—and it does! I’ve been surprised—and pleased—that readers say they couldn’t put the book down. I didn’t think I was writing a suspenseful book. As a reader myself or as a movie viewer, I’m not good with suspense—It makes me too nervous! I understand, of course, that fiction should propel the reader along, so I’m glad Heirlooms does that for readers.
I know you’ve also been busy giving readings and traveling--first for Washing the Dead and now for Betrand Court. I'm enjoying the whirlwind, too, but I'm wondering when does one write? And you've been doing this non-stop, it seems for a couple years! How do you do it?!
MB: WOW. This gentleman’s willingness to surrender his family heirloom speaks volumes about how he (and others it seems) are connecting with your book. I’m not surprised. I too love when readers respond to my books by sharing stories of their own. That’s the best part. I’m still a little shocked when someone (who is not related to me) tells me that they’ve read my book. I hope that never wears off!
My readers’ feedback has also taught me a great deal about what works (and doesn’t) in my writing. I find this energizing, but I do struggle with transitioning between speaking to audiences about my books and settling back into “the chair.” During lulls in my schedule, I’ve been able to write essays and chip away at revising my novel, but now it’s time to seriously roll up my sleeves. What about you? Have you been able to think about your next project amidst the flurry of promoting your book? 
RH: I love giving readings, talking with book lovers, and getting to see old friends and former students at events. That’s been so rewarding, but I’m also feeling antsy, the way I do when I haven’t written for a while. I know I need to get back to work on new stories, but I haven’t been able to write fiction while promoting Heirlooms. Like you, I can write essays, but fiction requires a different head space for me—quiet and calm, which is, I’m realizing, the exact opposite of promoting. I’m thinking that a residency in the near future would be a good way to sink back into fiction.

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