Monday, September 10, 2018

TBR: Sherrie Flick, Thank Your Lucky Stars



TBR [to be read] is a new feature on my blog, a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

Thank Your Lucky Stars is a collection of 50 flash fiction and longer stories that lean a little dark and weird.

Which story did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which story gave you the most trouble, and why?

I loved writing so many of these stories, but the one I’m most proud of these days is “Dance,” which was also in the awesome anthology Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Booze and Butter. I’ve always wanted to write a story with a roving third person close point of view. Richard Yates does this in Revolutionary Road and Toni Morrison does it in Sula and it always seemed like unreachable literary magic. When I set out to write the story for the anthology (it was assigned to me by Sam Ligon with a ridiculously tight deadline), I finally realized that I understood enough about point of view to give it a go. That’s when Viv and Matty showed up on the page along with a taxidermied deer head. One of the requirements of the story for the anthology was that it had to have either pie or whiskey in it. I was happy to comply and include both.

The story that gave me the most trouble is not in the collection. Seriously, it was almost in the collection. I’d been working on it for almost 20 years and still I had to take it out because it just wasn’t working. But the one that was equally troublesome and also took me 20 years to finish is the long story “Open and Shut.” There’s a kind of continuous present in the story that always kept me coming back to it, but I just couldn’t get the characters to be likeable enough. I feel pretty good about that story now though.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

The manuscript for this story collection resides in a folder on my laptop that is labeled “2012 Story Collection.” That’s when I first pulled together what I thought would be one story collection from all the stories I’d written and published over the years. As I put together the collection it became clear to me that some stories just didn’t fit. They had a different, darker, and weirder tone. Plus, I had way too many pages for one manuscript. So I slowly put together what would become my debut story collection Whiskey, Etc. The outtakes went into a second Word document and I soon realized that they worked together in a different way and they became Thank Your Lucky Stars (It wasn’t titled that then though. I think the title then was Fucking Beautiful, a great but not really practical title). I sent both manuscripts to an editor who had requested them at a university press and they sat with her for two years. Two years. Yep. I queried every 6 weeks. Yep. 

Eventually both manuscripts were declined. That’s when I made a big list of small presses that had an interest in/history with publishing flash fiction. I asked around, got some recommendations, and started sending just Whiskey, Etc. out to contests and presses—at least 15 places, maybe more. I’m not sure why I didn’t send the TYLS manuscript out but it might have had something to do with it not really having a good title and also that the really bad story was still in there and I didn’t feel as confident with it, even though the editor who held both collections for two years said it was the stronger manuscript. Whiskey, Etc. was accepted and published by Queen’s Ferry Press, which then kind of imploded a year later. In the mean time, I’d revised and sent an as yet not correctly titled manuscript to a bunch of contests and publishers. Christine Stroud at Autumn House Press liked it and agreed to publish it. In the meantime, Autumn House also agreed to pick up Whiskey, Etc. So now both books are published by Autumn House, which is nice and tidy. The two books are the same size and make a sweet matching set for your bookshelf.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

It came from Tim O’Brien and it’s very simple but it has helped me tremendously in revision. He said, “Don’t forget to look around.” And he meant look around in your head and in your scene when you’re writing. Don’t get too myopic. What does your character see, really see?

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

How many pieces of flash fiction you need to write and revise in order to have a book-length collection. Between the two collections there are 107 stories. Most of those have been published. Typing that just made me very tired.

But that’s probably not what you meant. I love when characters take off and just say stuff that I personally would never say or do. I love when they kind of get away from me and out of my head and I just follow behind. That happened to great extent with the story “Monkey Head.” It was a much different story even from when it was originally published in Thumbnail. When I revisited it in the collection I realized Katey Lynn was more messed up and more complex than I’d made her previously and it was really exciting to dig back into that story.

How did you find the title of your book?

This manuscript had many titles along the way. So many I don’t think I can remember them all. One was Fucking Beautiful, which I mentioned above, another was Mind Body Heart Lungs, which is the title of the story that I ended up pulling from the manuscript entirely. I still love that title and maybe someday 20 years from now I will finally finish that story. Another was Open and Shut, which is another story title but also very boring. How I Left Ned and Other Stories was another option, again a story title and this was a contender down to the finish line. For a while I had Thank My Lucky Stars as another title option and I liked it but it never seemed quite right. 

And then my friend the amazing writer Chuck Kinder read the manuscript. Chuck is the best titler in the world. He actually suggested quite a few title changes for stories within the manuscript while he was going through it (suggestions that I took), but my main challenge to him was to help me find a title for the whole thing. He suggested Thank Your Lucky Stars and that shift from “My” to “Your” just made it click. It makes a connection to the reader and it looks better typed out.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes you might share?)

Oh yes. I’m a big baker and cook and I also teach in the Food Studies program at Chatham University so I’m around food ideas and theories on a regular basis. There is a lot of corn in the first story “How I Left Ned.” The corn itself kind of becomes a character there. And there’s a lame microwaved baked potato in that one, too. In “Dance” Matty spends his days baking so we see him make a pear pie as well as raspberry, walnut mascarpone hand pies. There’s fried chicken and espresso, diner coffee and those rotating displays you find in diners with a selection of pie. There’s a dinner party with wine, garlic mashed potatoes, and steak. There are Pittsburgh women pinching pierogis and birds pecking at crumbs. There are gardens and a kind of film noir/American musical mash up of chopping onions for dinner. Thai takeout, Grapenuts, bakeries, coffee shops, cafes, tea, whiskey, Scotch, and beer.

As far as a recipe goes: The hand pie recipe is in the Pie & Whiskey anthology if anyone would like to check that out. My pear pie recipe is as follows below (scroll to the page jump).

READ MORE ABOUT SHERRIEwww.sherrieflick.com

READ MORE ABOUT THE PUBLISHERhttps://www.autumnhouse.org


READ A STORY, “ASHES”: http://www.smokelong.com/ashes/

Click for recipe: “Matty’s Pear Pie”

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

TBR: Dan Elish, The Royal Order of Fighting Dragons



TBR [to be read] is a new feature on my blog, a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe!




Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

THE ROYAL ORDER OF FIGHTING DRAGONS is a comic adventure for kids that appeals to all ages. Ike Rupert Hollingsberry is an everyday 6th grade New York City kid. Except for one major thing: his dad was a famous actor who died on the set of a kids’ TV show called The Fighting Dragons. At least that’s what Ike thinks when the book begins. Turns out that The Royal Order of Fighting Dragons is a real organization and the TV show was just a cover. Now young Ike is next in line…to be their leader.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

The characters I enjoyed creating the most were, in a way, the most difficult, too. That’s because as the plot developed Ike needed to have five sidekicks, major kid characters to help him on his quest. They are: Elmira, a genius-blogger-dragon-expert nerd; Diego a goofy guy who claims to speak to animals; Kashvi, a mechanical whizz who can fix anything; Alexandro Lafcadio Cortesi, a handsome, confident boy from Rome; and finally, Lucinda O’Leary Smith, a swashbuckling girl from the outback of Australia. 

It can be difficult to do scenes with lots of different characters. Each voice must be distinct and recognizable to the reader even from unattributed dialogue. So it’s a challenge. That was the hard part. The fun part was creating these quirky kids.

I also had fun creating the villain, Theodore Opal, a New York City real estate developer who bears more than a passing resemblance to someone who may or may not occupy the White House. Just sayin’…
           

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

Suffice it to say, it took a long time – a period of a couple of years – to write a good draft of this book. I had help from friends, my wife, my kids, and my agent. Also, my cats.

Then – sad to say and I’m STILL NOT SURE WHY – the book was rejected at a few places. All with exceedingly polite, even enthusiastic, notes. Was it maddening? Yes. I fumed, I railed. But my agent believed in the book and so did I. Soon enough, it found a home at Vesuvian Media, a fantastic new press. I feel very well taken care of there and am thrilled. The book looks utterly fantastic. So sometimes the journey is rough but the landing is very happy.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

To just keep on going. You will be surprised by how much you can produce if you write a little bit (or a lot) every day. Try not to get discouraged. Realize that whatever you’re working on is going to take lots of rewriting and polishing to get right. Don’t expect the first draft to be good. Just have faith and keep revising. If you’re serious about the work, the quality will get there.  

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

Working out the plot mechanics took a lot of thought on this one. Some of the plot has to do with an Order of Fighting Dragons which dates to the time of King Arthur. I was very surprised to discover how Merlin (who may or may not be a character in the story in a modern guise) figured into the tale.

Who is your ideal reader?

My ideal reader is any enthusiastic boy or girl who likes Roald Dahl, Harry Potter or the Lightning Thief, age 7 to 15. But honestly, I think this book has wide appeal for later teens and adults, too. I’ve had very positive reactions among all age groups. Hey, my mother-in-law LOVED it.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book?

Well, Thaddeus, the head dragon keeper, likes to drink a non-alcoholic concoction called Dragon Ale but I never do specify exactly what is in it except cinnamon and thirty other rare spices from England. [Editor’s note: Aha! Sounds like a secret recipe!]



READ MORE ABOUT DAN: www.danelish.com







Friday, August 31, 2018

Writing Tip Takeaways from the 2018 HippoCamp CNF Conference


By Joanne Lozar Glenn

I returned from the HippoCamp Creative Nonfiction Conference late Sunday night. It was inspiring, at times overwhelming, and most of all a nurturing conference that offered thoughtful---and practical---perspectives on craft and on the writing life.

Here are some takeaways, organized as uncommon solutions to common writing problems. I hope you find at least one you can put into practice right away!

When you fear telling your truth is a betrayal: "I can tell you the morality of a book lies in its motivation. Compassion is a writer's greatest asset, our greatest guard against betrayal. May your truth be forgiving...that is the only way it will not betray." --Beth Kephart, "No Truth Like the Real Truth"

 When you're having trouble understanding an object / place / character: Try doodling/drawing it from every angle, up close and far away, and make notes. See both light and shadow. --Rebecca Fish Ewan, "Drawing for Wordies"

When you worry that your life/story is too "quiet" or conflict-free to be interesting: Think of conflict as a trajectory rather than a problem to be solved...what is it that calls for change and creates movement through the story? --Kate Meadows, "The Quiet Memoir"

When you're stuck: Think in terms of three sections. They don't have to make chronological sense. Strive for emotional sense. --Abigail Thomas, Keynote

When you're having trouble staying focused on a book-length project: Write yourself a long elaborate subtitle that includes all the key points you intend to cover, and keep it close as you revise. As the story takes shape, write really detailed chapter summaries so you can keep track of what's happening. --Lisa Romeo, "Reconstruction: Transforming Essays into a Narrative Memoir Manuscript"

When you're finding it hard to be productive: Try the Pomodoro technique. Tell yourself you only have to work on X for 25 minutes. Set a timer. Go! Take a break, rinse, and repeat. --Jodi Sh. Doff, "The Virtual Writers Room"

When you realize there's a gap between the kind of writing you like and what you want your work to look like: Realize you'll grow into this process---as long as you do the volumes of work required to get there. --Amma Marfo, "Cultivating Creativity in Your Craft"


ABOUT JOANNE LOZAR GLENN

Writer-editor-educator Joanne Lozar Glenn leads writing groups and destination writing retreats. She is a fellow of the Ohio Writing Project, a certified AWA facilitator, and a co-author of Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Through Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More (Skyhorse, 2016). Her work has been published in Beautiful Things (River Teeth), Peregrine, Hippocampus, Brevity, and other print and online journals.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

On Writing: When the "Dark Place" Has You by the Throat


Here’s an essay I wrote about a dark writing time in my not-so-distant past, originally published in the Delmarva Review, and now online, thanks to their partnership with the Spy publications:

Enticing excerpt:
For several years, I had been in a different sort of dark place, the one where every other writer in America had a new book being rave-reviewed and winning A Major Award. I had written a beautiful novel that had been rejected by every publisher in America. This was actually the second novel in a row I had written to be rejected by every publisher in America. The notes from my agent were getting brief. Because I’d focused on writing novels, I didn’t have many short stories to send around for a possible hit of lit journal publication, and anyway, the short stories I did have had been rejected by every literary journal in America. My favorite things about my writing life then were leading workshops, making pronouncements about writing, and watching students improve under my sharp eye. I can still teach, I thought, at least there’s that.

Read the rest:
https://talbotspy.org/delmarva-review-dark-vs-darker-by-leslie-pietrzyk/

(And I'll add that the story in question is included in THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST: "Chapter Ten: An Index of Food (Draft).")

Monday, August 27, 2018

Fall Events

I don't know why I'm thinking ahead to fall when it's 1000 degrees outside with 1000% humidity, but...oh. That's exactly why. Anyway, here are some upcoming fall classes and readings on my schedule...love to see you at one, more, all--and let's hope we'll be wearing sweaters by then!

*****


Thursday, October 11, 2018
4:30pm - 5:45pm
“Wanting More: Coming of Age Novels”
Reading with Jon Pineda
Fall for the Book Festival
George Mason University
Sandy Spring Bank Tent, Johnson Center North Plaza
More information about the Fall for the Book festival.

***** 

Saturday, October 13, 2018
Master Class: Find Your Creative Voice: Creating Memorable Fiction and Memoir
10:30 AM – 12:30 PM
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA
Have you always wanted to write but couldn’t quite find the courage to pick up a pencil? Or perhaps you’re a secret writer, scribbling stories in private notebooks, compulsively filling the pages of your journal? This supportive, hands-on workshop with Leslie Pietrzyk will give you courage to write and direction about how to proceed. Through discussion and writing exercises, participants will learn some basic techniques of fiction/memoir writing. The goal is to leave with a couple of promising pieces to finish at home. (This event is in conjunction with the Fall for the Book festival.)

More information about the Fall for the Book festival.

***** 

Monday October 15, 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Right Brain Writing: Material Goods
Politics & Prose Bookstore
5015 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20008
Explore your creative side in this session, one of a series of stand-alone classes with prompts designed to get your subconscious flowing. Through guided exercises, we’ll focus on writing about the variety of items we own or have owned along the path of our lives. Can we love a “thing”? What happiness (or sadness) might “things” bring? No writing experience necessary! This is a great class for beginners and also for those fiction writers and/or memoirists with more experience who might be stuck in their current projects and are looking for a jolt of inspiration. Our goal is to have fun in a supportive, nurturing environment and to go home with several promising pieces to work on further.  Please bring lots of paper and pen/pencil or a fully charged computer. 


*****

Wednesday, November 7, 2018
7 pm
Reading
Mary Riley Styles Public Library
120 N. Virginia Ave.
Falls Church, VA

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Favorite Books Bookshelf, July 31, 2018


I recently was forced to move masses of books off and then later back onto their shelves for a carpet cleaning project, and it occurred to me that it might be fun for me to create a record of the books that are on my hallowed FAVORITE BOOKS BOOKSHELF at this particular moment in time. The shelf is pretty packed, so the rule is that I can’t really add a book without subtracting one. The other rule is that I have to remind myself that some of these books may not be the “best” book ever, but that it’s on this shelf because it hit me at the exact right time, or the reading experience was extraordinary in some memorable way that enhanced the book, or, well, because I don’t really care that this isn’t the “best” book ever. Also, for sure, some actually ARE the “best” ever. Usually, I have a sort of feeling as I’m reading and finishing. If I have to ask myself if a book should go on this shelf, I know it shouldn’t.

A few words to remind everyone that I’ve been around about as long as a sequoia, and I’m sure this list reflects to some extent a reader coming of age during a certain time/place. So be it. That is who I am. And this is my secret place where I separate the art from the artist and try not to worry about writers who might be dicks in real life. Additionally, I try not to put books by friends in this area, because those books get their own special shelves. And I (mostly) resist including children’s books.

I’ll also say that I have shelves of other books that I absolutely love! But usually there’s a little something extra that makes me send a book to this shelf. I’m really loathe to remove (or even reread) books that have been here for a long, long, long time…so if you’re going to question me in a deep way about why a book is here, it’s quite possible that I may not be able to answer to your satisfaction or even coherently. Suffice to say that typing each of these titles, touching each of these covers as I unshelved and reshelved did so much more than spark joy, as Marie Kondo suggests: Each book reminded me of who I was, who I am, and how I got to here.

Oh, and for those of you worried that you’re not finding The Great Gatsby here--!!—it, and The Catcher in the Rye, are in with the writing books, due to their outsize influence on me and my writing life.

Presented alphabetically here, but PLEASE don’t think I have them alphabetized on the shelf? What, you think I’m crazy?!? (Also, forgive me for being too lazy to italicize titles.)

Abbott, Lee K.: Love Is the Crooked Thing
Ansay, A. Manette: Vinegar Hill
Austen, Jane: Pride & Prejudice
Baker, Nicholson: The Mezzanine
Black, Robin: If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This
Bodsworth, Fred: Last of the Curlews
Boswell, Tom: Why Time Begins on Opening Day
Bronson, Po: Bombardiers
Campbell, Bonnie Jo: Mother, Tell Your Daughters
Canin, Ethan: The Palace Thief
Capote, Truman: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Cather, Willa: My Antonia
Conrad, Joseph: Heart of Darkness
Didion, Joan: Play It as It Lays
Doerr, Harriet: Stones for Ibarra
Downham, Jenny: Before I Die
Eliot, T.S.: Collected Poems
Ellis, Bret Easton: Less Than Zero
Eugenides, Jeffrey: The Virgin Suicides
Ferris, Joshua: Then We Came to the End
Fitzgerald, F. Scott: The Pat Hobby Stories
Ford, Richard: Independence Day
Frazier, Ian: The Great Plains
Fried, Seth: “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre,” One Story magazine
Gilchrist, Ellen: Victory Over Japan
Hamper, Ben: Rivethead
Hemingway, Ernest: A Moveable Feast
Hemingway, Ernest: In Our Time
Hemingway, Ernest: The Sun Also Rises
Hemingway, Ernest: Winner Take Nothing
Hempel, Amy: Reasons to Live
Ishiguro, Kazuo: The Remains of the Day
Jong, Erica: Fear of Flying
Krakauer, Jon: Into Thin Air
LaChapelle, Mary: House of Heroes
LeCarre, John: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
Lee, Harper: To Kill a Mockingbird
Lowell, Susan: Ganado Red
MacLean, Norma: A River Runs through It
McCarthy, Cormac: All the Pretty Horses
McEwan, Ian: Atonement
McInerney, Jay: Bright Lights, Big City
McKinght, Reginald: The Kind of Light That Shines on Texas
Melville, Herman: Moby-Dick
Minot, Susan: Monkeys
O’Connor, Flannery: The Complete Stories
Plimpton, George: Open Net
Porter, Katherine Anne: Pale Horse, Pale Rider
Richard, Mark: The Ice at the Bottom of the World
Salinger, J.D.: Nine Stories
Shipstead, Maggie: “Astonish Me,” One Story magazine
Shriver, Lionel: We Need to Talk about Kevin
Simpson, Eileen: Poets in their Youth
Smith, Patti: Just Kids
Stafford, Jean: The Mountain Lion
Strand, Mark: The Continuous Life
Swarthout, Glendon: The Homesman
Tolstoy, Leo: Anna Karenina
Townsend, Sue: The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole
Townsend, Sue: The Secret Life of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾
Updike, John: Pigeon Feathers
Wakefield, Dan: New York in the 50s
White, E.B.: Stuart Little
Whitman, Walt: Leaves of Grass
Wolfe, Tom: The Bonfire of the Vanities
Woodrell, Daniel: Winter’s Bone
Yates, Richard: Eleven Kinds of Loneliness

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

SILVER GIRL Available at a Stock-Up Price of $9!


Passing along this information from my wonderful publisher, Unnamed Press:

Hunting Party by Agn├Ęs Desarthe and Tacky Goblin by T. Sean Steele are both officially out today, which marks 50 books here at Unnamed Press!

To celebrate, we're offering a 50% discount on our website for the next 5 days. Experience the books that made us, and take a chance on something new.

When we think about all of the years of work (from writing to editing to production and publicity) that went into each of our 50 titles and the wonderful authors who made them, it's almost hard to believe. We're going to enjoy this for a little while.

Have a look at our website, where the discount is in full effect, and most books are around $8 each. (INCLUDING SILVER GIRL!!!!!!!!)

Work-in-Progress

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