Monday, November 23, 2015

Link Corral: Moby-Dick; New Review of My Book; Free Journal

I thought this was an amusing report from attending a marathon reading of Moby-Dick:

...The inaugural event occurred in 2012 and took place in three independent bookstores over the course of three days. There are other readings across the country, as the New York Times noted, “with bearded, bespectacled acolytes flocking to seaside ports, sipping from thermoses of grog and readjusting their sweaters at the podium,” but this event was New York City’s first. This year, the event was compacted into two days and delivered before Frank Stella’s Melville-inspired sculptures. At this point, I think it is important to note the origins of the word “marathon”: a feat of endurance that resulted in immediate death….


Here’s a nice review of THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST on BookBrowse…and it was selected as the Editor’s Choice! Because the review is posted for non-subscribers only for a week, I’m going to cheat and include the entire text here:

Exploring the many facets of grief through fiction in a variety of formats and voices, This Angel on My Chest deserves a wide audience.

Leslie Pietrzyk draws on her own experiences in This Angel on My Chest, a collection of loosely connected short stories, each of which features a young widow. Pietrzyk, whose husband died of a heart attack at the age of 37, deftly explores the various aspects of grief she endured following the tragedy, some aspects of which continue to affect her more than a decade later.

The book is fictional, but the author has said that she made a point of including at least "one hard, true thing" in each story, tiny details that would never occur to someone who hasn't gone through a deep loss. For example, in one of the stories she talks about her husband's love for malted milk balls – and regret after his death that she more frequently bought peanut M&Ms because they were her favorite. So while the tales feature different women in different circumstances, each has an underlying ring of truth that blurs the line between fact and fiction. In some of the stories Pietrzyk does seem to talk directly to her husband but whether it's the fictional spouse lost by the character or the real-life equivalent the author lost, it's impossible to tell.

Unsurprisingly This Angel on My Chest is very touching but the feelings expressed aren't limited to sorrow. They instead cycle through a whole gamut of emotions such as anger, fear, confusion and depression. The book is outward looking too, exploring characters' reactions to their husbands' deaths and the responses of those around the women, rather than depicting any of them as objects of pity.

It made me more appreciative of the people in my life, and also caused me to pause and wonder what I'd miss about them should they predecease me, things that I take for granted now. While I choked up a bit from time to time, I generally didn't find the book overly sad or depressing. I was instead primarily impressed by the author's ability to completely capture her subject so perfectly. I've been lucky and haven't known this level of loss in my life, but Pietrzyk's writing went a long way toward helping me understand what she and others have experienced.

The author confines most of her stories to grief and the mourning process, only making her way to healing toward the end of the collection as she seems to apologize to her late husband for moving on. Given the fact that some healing seems to have occurred in her life — she has remarried — I found it interesting that she chose to limit her stories to the death of a spouse and its immediate aftereffects. But even with this limited scope, the book doesn't become dull or keep hammering on a single subject. The variety of voices, formats and emotions is rather remarkable and keeps the collection entertaining as perspectives shift from one account to the next. She moves beyond the standard short story form by including elements such as a multiple-choice quiz and a list of foods mentioned throughout the book. Neither of these formats sounds particularly remarkable; what, you may ask yourself, is so exciting about a list? Yet somehow the author turns chapters such as these into some of the most moving and memorable parts of the book.

Sometimes Pietrzyk's use of perspective is confusing. In some of the stories she uses "you," and I found myself re-reading to determine if "you" was the narrator referring to herself (as in, "you have to ask yourself if…") or if "you" was the narrator talking to her absent spouse ("you once said…"). The same uncertainty occurred over the use of "she" referring to an unnamed character in a chapter that focused on more than one woman. Careful reading of these sections, though, will certainly help avoid the disorientation I occasionally felt, and the overall quality of Pietrzyk's writing makes any struggle through these passages well worth the effort.

This Angel on My Chest is excellent from start to finish, and deserves a wide audience. Readers who can get beyond their knee-jerk aversion to the subject will find a real gem here.


I’m very pleased that one of my stories is appearing in the new issue of The Greensboro Review. “Easy Love” is one of the stories I had to cut from THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST so I’m happy it found a happy home. Here’s the opening:

            Sunday was Emma’s birthday.  It was also my birthday, and, unfortunately, Dan’s birthday, too.  What were the chances of an entire family having a birthday on the same day?  “We’re just crazy-lucky like that,” Emma used to tell people.

            This year, Emma would turn thirteen, I was going to be forty-three, and Dan—my husband, Emma’s dad—had died last April, so he would be forty-five forever.

            In the weeks leading up to the “big day,” Emma claimed desperately one moment that she had to have a party and claimed the next that all parties were “annoying” and “stupid” and that she wouldn’t sit through one unless I gave her a thousand dollars.  I longed to spend the day distracted by a chaotic sleepover or shepherding a herd of girls through an afternoon of disco bowling, but the final word was absolutely not, no “pathetic” birthday party for her.

            “Are you sure?” I said.  “I think maybe we should do something.”

            “No party,” she said.  “No special dinner.  No nothing.  Just no.”  She was hunkered down into the big leather couch, and I perched on the edge, watching the Caps’ hockey game.  Emma wore the lucky “Rock the Red” T-shirt Dan gave her during last year’s play-off run.  Dan had been a hockey fan, had played goalie in college, and while I could follow the action, I couldn’t care about the outcome the way he and Emma did.  Win, lose, tie: there was another game soon enough, another season, a different team to root for if yours wasn’t any good this year.  Not that I shared these scandalous thoughts. …

Unfortunately, the story isn’t online, but I have an extra copy of the journal…send me an email with your mailing address if you would like to read it. I’ll select one person at random on Wednesday evening. Here’s my email: Please put GREENSBORO REVIEW in the header, so I can keep my inbox organized!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Best Thanksgiving Stuffing Ever

What? You still haven’t tried my amazing Thanksgiving stuffing? It’s not too late...this can (and should) be the year! Simply put, this is the best stuffing there is or will be—take it from one who has eaten boatloads of stuffing through the years. I'm pretty sure this stuffing would be in the running for my last meal if I were ever on death row, if the prison kitchen would let me make it myself.

Cornbread & Scallion Stuffing
Adapted from the beloved, still-missed Gourmet magazine, November 1992
(It’s actually called Cornbread, Sausage & Scallion Stuffing, but in an uncharacteristic nod to heart-health, I don’t put in the sausage. See the note below if you’d like to add the sausage.)

For the cornbread:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the stuffing:
¾ stick unsalted butter plus an additional 2 tablespoons if baking the stuffing separately
2 cups finely chopped onion
1 ½ cups finely chopped celery
2 teaspoons crumbed dried sage
1 teaspoon dried marjoram, crumbled
1 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
½ cup thinly sliced scallions
1 ½ cups chicken broth if baking the stuffing separately

Make the cornbread: In a bowl stir together the flour, the cornmeal, the baking powder, and the salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, the egg, and the butter, and add the milk mixture to the cornmeal mixture, and stir the batter until it is just combined. Pour the batter into a greased 8-inch-square baking pan (I actually use a cast iron skillet) and bake the cornbread in the middle of a preheated 425 F oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. (The corn bread may be made 2 days in advance and kept wrapped tightly in foil at room temperature.)

Into a jellyroll pan, crumble the corn bread coarse, bake it in the middle of a preheated 325 F oven, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until it is dry and golden, and let it cool.

Make the stuffing:  In a large skillet, melt 6 tablespoons of butter and cook the onion and the celery over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened. Add the sage, marjoram, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste and cook the mixture, stirring, for 3 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, add the corn bread, the scallion, and salt and pepper to taste, and combine the stuffing gently but thoroughly. Let the stuffing cool completely before using it to stuff a 12-14 pound turkey.

The stuffing can be baked separately: Spoon the stuffing into a buttered 3- to 4-quart casserole, drizzle it with the broth, and dot the top with the additional 2 tablespoons of butter, cut into bits. Bake the stuffing, covered, in the middle of a preheated 325 F degree oven for 30 minutes and bake it, uncovered, for 30 minutes more.

Serves 8-10; fewer if I am one of the dinner guests!

Note: Here are the instructions if you want to add the sausage: The recipe calls for “3/4 lb bulk pork sausage” that you brown in a skillet. Remove it from the pan—leaving the fat—and proceed with cooking the onions, etc. Add the sausage at the end, when you combine the cornbread and scallion with the onion mixture.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Exciting News...It Always Comes in Threes!

Exciting News!

The Kirkus Reviews has named THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST as one of the best books of fiction in 2015. (Okay, there are a number of books on this list, so you have to go to page 10 to find me…but there I am!!)


Here’s a thoughtful interview with me for Fiction Writers Review, conducted by Melissa Scholes Young:

…After several months of NYC publishers telling me my book was “too sad” and that they couldn’t deal with short stories, I spent a year entering the top fiction contests. The same basic manuscript was a semi-finalist twice, rejected four times, and won the contest I would have selected as the one I wanted most! I share this in an encouraging way: cast a wide net and accept that there is always subjectivity to the publishing biz….


Today (November 17) is my last public book event for the year. I’ll be at the annual Authors’ Night & Book Fair at the National Press Club, selling books with a giant herd of other writers, including “Shirley” from the TV show “Laverne & Shirley,” Sister Souljah, the former White House chef, assorted members of congress and senators and ex-governors, poet Sandra Beasley…to name only a few! Do stop by—surely this line-up is crazy enough to be wonderful fun!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November 15 Reading at the Writer's Center

This is my last public reading of the fall...please stop by!

Reading: SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2015
2PM ~ 4PM
Leslie Pietrzyk and Jehanne Dubrow
Hosted by The Writer's Center
4508 Walsh St, Chevy Chase, Maryland 20815

Leslie Pietrzyk reads from her collection of short stories, This Angel on My Chest. She is joined by Jehanne Dubrow, author of The Arranged Marriage, a collection of prose poems. The reading will be followed by a reception and book signing. Free admission.

Jehanne Dubrow is the author of five poetry collections, including most recently The Arranged Marriage (University of New Mexico Press, 2015), Red Army Red (Northwestern University Press, 2012), and Stateside (Northwestern University Press, 2010). Her work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, The New England Review, Prairie Schooner, and Hudson Review. She is the Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House and an Associate Professor of creative writing at Washington College, where she edits the national literary journal, Cherry Tree.

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree (Avon Books) and A Year and a Day (William Morrow) and a collection of short stories, This Angel on My Chest, which won the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. Her short fiction has appeared in many literary journals, including The Iowa Review, Gettysburg Review, New England Review, and The Sun magazine. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and she has won a number of writing awards, including Shenandoah’s Jean Charpiot Goodheart Prize for Fiction. She teaches at the Johns Hopkins Advanced Academic Program’s graduate writing program, the Writer’s Center, and Converse College’s low-residency MFA program.

Editorial Position Open

An interesting opportunity:

MIEL (, a micropress based in Belgium, is looking for an assistant editor for 2016. Particulars are available here (, but in brief:

responsibilities include editing, limited admin, and the possibility of design (an anticipated 6-8 hours per month); compensation is a €200 honorarium, books, training, and support. Writers of color, LGBTQ writers, and women writers are especially encouraged to apply. Applicants may be based anywhere in the world as long as they have a reliable internet connection. Deadline November 30.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tips for Making the Most of Your Writing Time

What writer doesn’t feel like she needs more time for her work? Shelby Settles Harper gets serious about becoming more productive during her writing hours:

I sometimes feel like a loser when I think about how long it’s taking me to write my first novel. Yes, I have a lot of good excuses (writing it while earning an MA in Writing and while birthing/adopting/raising three young children and writing it during my family’s three-year living abroad experience). Perhaps I’m supposed to cut my teeth on one novel that’s a decade in the making while other writers learn to write by writing two or three novels…but none of those things makes me feel like less of a loser. 

So I read a book on time management. It was awesome! It turns out – light bulb! – that I’ve got a few bad habits that might contribute to my slow pace. While I can’t control my kids’ sick days or school holidays, there are many small changes I can make to be more productive…..

Thursday, October 29, 2015

DC-Area Poets: See Your Work on a Bus!

From my friend, Kim Roberts:

Call for Poems: Moving Words 2016

Thousands of commuters could be reading your poetry!

Poetry in Arlington is quite literally on the move.  The annual poetry contest Moving Words is now open for submissions. Deadline: January 11, 2016.  The work of six winning poets will be printed on colorful placards and displayed prominently inside area buses, enlivening the ride for thousands of commuters. This year’s Moving Words competition is juried by poet, editor and literary curator, Francisco Arag√≥n.

Six winners will have their poem displayed inside Arlington Transit’s (ART) Buses for three months between April and September 2016 where it will be seen by thousands of riders. They will also each receive a $250 honorarium, and will be invited to give a public reading of their work in April 2016 during National Poetry Month.  The Moving Words Program was launched in 1999, conceived by award-winning poet and literary historian Kim Roberts (co-editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly), who continues to consult with the program.

Poets who live in the D.C. Metro transit area and are over 18 years old are eligible to enter.  There is no fee to enter.


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