Thursday, December 18, 2008

Work in Progress: Distracted Holiday Edition

I’m winding things up here, getting ready for the loooong drive back to the heartland. Driving takes forever, but at least no one charges us for excessive luggage or makes us remove our “suspicious” shoes; no seatbacks whacking our knees and faces. Plus, I believe that driving in this case is greener than flying? In any event, nothing could entice me to fight the “festive” hordes at the airport. So I won’t be posting for at least a week, possibly longer—possibly not until next year! Hope you have a lovely holiday season, safe travels, and a happy 2009!


I’ll leave you with some odds and ends:

It was announced that poet Elizabeth Alexander will be reading a poem at the inauguration. Of course, that means she’ll have to write it first…can you imagine the pressure? This is a hard time of year to focus on writing, and suddenly you’re required to come up with something brilliant, accessible, and perfect that will make people cry….or at least not make other writers cringe in embarrassment.

I read about the announcement here in the Washington Post, and here’s Elizabeth Alexander’s web site. (On her events link, for January 20, she modestly notes: “Barack Obama’s inagural poet, Washington, D.C.”)

And scroll to the bottom of my post to read a poem that the Washington Post ran (with, I might add, totally messed up linebreaks…ugh) . I very much like the poem, so I’m hopeful that she’ll rise to the occasion. In any event, it’s always nice to see a writer placed in a place of prominence….as it should be every day! (You can read more of Alexander’s work here.)

This isn’t equal to the pressure of writing a perfect poem for a true moment of history like the inauguration of the nation’s first bi-racial president, but I’ve had my own week of modest pressure as I tried to complete a rough draft of a chapter for my new novel before hitting the road.

I tend to think that I don’t write well under pressure, but actually I’m beginning to realize that I do: it seems that often when there’s some sort of artificial deadline (usually leaving on a trip), I come up with great ideas, and the words flow. I started this chapter with only an idea of where the first scene would take place, and a short conversation that would happen there…and two weeks later I’ve got 27 (very, very rough) pages of intense conflict and character development…as well as a killer cliff-hanger ending. All because I’m going out of town. Maybe I should travel more?

Please don’t think I’m vain and overly impressed with myself from the above paragraphs. They were written in the magical time between finishing the rough draft and before reading it over again. Obviously when I reread it, I’ll realize it totally sucks. But for now, I’ll linger in the false sense of serenity and confidence for as long as it lasts.

Here’s a Jerry Seinfeld-esque observation about myself: Ever notice how all I do is complain about how I’m bad at coming up with titles, and yet in every novel I write, I decide to title EVERY CHAPTER? What’s up with that?

In a totally distracted shift of subject, do check out the new issue of Poets & Writers magazine. Great roundtable discussion with some young agents, an interesting exploration of “why we write,” and some advice for what’s going on when we can’t write. (The magazine is so hot off the presses that articles and excerpts from the new issue aren’t yet online.) If you don’t subscribe, you should.

Ending with a moment of glory, Elizabeth Alexander’s very moving poem, “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe”:

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are our ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said

“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

From American Sublime, published by Graywolf Press. (Watch the amazon numbers move on this book!)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hardcover vs. Paperback Original

Most writers dream of seeing their hard-sought, perfect words printed between hard covers…with a paperback to follow. But is that the best approach for a first novel? Might the trade paperback original be coming into its own? Editorial Ass explores the pros and cons of the hardcover vs. the paperback here.


"When my last few hardcover books came out," [author] Alice [Mattison] continued, "I noticed that after a reading, audience members were more likely to buy a paperback or two than the new book, which was much more expensive. After I'd thought about it, I began to feel hopeful about a paperback original. At the start of my career I had hardcover books with poor sales that never made it to paperback, and that was infinitely more frustrating, I assure you."

$3000 Scholarship for DC-Area Polish-American Students

This is a bit off-task, but I wanted to alert Polish-American parents/students out there (in the DC area) about a $3000 scholarship available through the Polish American Arts Association of Washington, DC.:

Applications for the PAAA Scholarship 2009 grant of $3000 are now being accepted through March 31, 2009. The winner will be announced May 17. The grant will be awarded at the PAAA Installation in June.

For information and application form see the PAAA web page at

Phillip Lopate Coming to Writer's Center

Mark your calendars for this event:

The Writer’s Center will celebrate its 32nd birthday with a reading by acclaimed memoirist, essayist, and film critic Phillip Lopate. Lopate, author or editor of more than a dozen books, including The Art of the Personal Essay, will read from his recent collection of novellas, Two Marriages, his first work of fiction since his 1987 novel The Rug Merchant. About Lopate, critic Sven Birkerts writes: “His fearlessness is tonic, his candor is straight gin.” A reception and book signing will follow the event.

When: Saturday, January 31 (7:30 P.M.)
Where: The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815
The cost of this event is $25. RSVP at or call 301.654.8664.

Phillip Lopate was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1943, and received a bachelor's degree at Columbia University in 1964, and a doctorate at Union Graduate School in 1979. He holds the John Cranford Adams Chair at Hofstra University, and teaches in the MFA graduate programs at Columbia, the New School, and Bennington. He can be found online at

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Newbery Books = Death of Reading?

"The Newbery [award for children’s literature] has probably done far more to turn kids off to reading than any other book award in children's publishing," suggests John Beach, associate professor of literacy education at St. John's University in New York, in this article in The Washington Post.

Could this be true? Read more here.

(Surprising side note: Charlotte's Web did NOT win the Newbery!)

Money for Nothing, Books for Free

If you’re a booklover who’s short on bucks, check out these book swapping sites as profiled in the Washington Post. Basically, you post the titles of books you own that you’re ready to pass along. Members request your books, and once you send them off, you get a credit, allowing you to request someone else’s books…which you can also send back into the world once you read them. Win-win-win!

Two Essay Contests for College Students

If you need some more cash for college, check out these opportunities to turn your words into dough:

2009 Sylvia K. Burack Scholarship Competition

Award: $500 and a year's subscription to The Writer magazine
Judges: The Writer editors
Deadline: March 1, 2009 (postmark)

Description: The Sylvia K. Burack Scholarship is a writing contest for full-time college students. The award is made in memory of Sylvia K. Burack, longtime editor-in-chief and publisher of The Writer. Burack was known for her dedication to helping writers and editors.

Requirements: You must be 18 or older and a full-time undergraduate student at a university or college in the U.S. or Canada at the time of entry. The winner will be asked to provide proof of enrollment.

--Submit 2 copies of a previously unpublished 600- to 800-word personal essay in English on something you feel passionate about.

--Essays will be judged on the quality of the writing, including grammar, punctuation and expression of ideas.

--Include a cover page with the essay title and word count, as well as your name, address, phone number and e-mail address. Contact information must be valid through July 2009.

--Also include the name and address of your school.

--Place only the title (not your name) at the top of each page of the essay.

--Entries must be typed and double-spaced on standard letter-size paper.

--Number each page. Paperclip the pages together.

--The award is open to students in the U.S. and Canada enrolled full time in an undergraduate college or university at the time of entry. (Do not send transcripts with entries.) Employees of Kalmbach Publishing Co. are not eligible to participate.Only one entry per student will be accepted.

Send entries to:
Sylvia K. Burack Scholarship
The Writer
21027 Crossroads Circle
P.O. Box 1612
Waukesha, WI 53187-1612.

Entries will not be returned. Do not send originals. If the winning entrant cannot be reached by July 1, 2009, the runner-up will be awarded the scholarship.The winner will be announced in July 2009 and will receive $500 and a year's subscription to The Writer.More details:

***** 2008 Scholarship Award

Award Amount: $300.00 U.S. Dollars
Deadline: December 31, 2008 (postmark)

Description: The 2008 Scholarship Award is available to freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior students attending a college or university in the United States or Canada. You must have a minimum 2.3 GPA.If you are a freshman and have not yet received your college grades, please submit your transcripts showing that you have enrolled in classes.One scholarship will be awarded. The winner will be notified through postal service and their name will be posted on the website. Phone calls will not be accepted.

You must submit an essay, maximum of 750 words, which addresses the following question:With banks collapsing, soaring gas prices, companies filing for bankruptcy, people losing their homes, uncertainty in the stock market, rising unemployment figures, and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, what are your thoughts on the current economic conditions?

In addition to answering an essay question, you must submit your official college transcripts to be eligible for this award.

All submissions must include your college transcripts and essay. Submissions can be sent through regular mail and must be postmarked by December 31, 2008.

Submissions must be mailed to: Scholarship 2008
PO Box 18689
Long Beach, CA 90807 awards 1 scholarship 3 times a year.
More details:

Monday, December 15, 2008

More on Submitting Work (Obsessive Edition)

As you may recall, I’ve been whining lately (here, here, here, here, and here) about various aspects of the submission process, which truly is a necessary evil. I had taken a break from sending work out last year, but because I wrote a number of shorter pieces over the summer, I’m back in the game…and am remembering how pleasant the break was.

Interestingly, my poll asking whether it’s better to get rejected after (a metaphorical) six months or six days revealed that not everyone is as big a baby as I am. People were generally happy to move on with their lives with the six-day rejection and were content to assume that the six-month rejection meant that at least a live person had considered their work. So…I’ll just roll with the punches, I guess, and take my punishment. (Of course what beats either of those options? An acceptance! I’d happily take one of those, too.)

I was interested in the comments that poet John Guzlowski left at the site where the poll is, commiserating with the difficulty of getting published in a journal these days and suggesting that the path to publication goes through either knowing the editor or having enough name recognition to get past the dim-wits at the gate (my phrasing, not John’s!). For his full text, go here, and click on “view results,” then on “comments.”

At first I was dismayed because I’ve never bought into this idea that “you have to know someone” in the publishing world. Yes, that may open some doors, but doesn’t good writing trump all, at least at some point? I’ve had several agents, and none of them were people I “knew”; none were personally recommended to me. I’ve had more than 60 short stories published, most of them in journals that I selected for a variety of reason, and most edited by people I’ve never met.

Still. Maybe that was then and this is now. The literary journal market feels tighter than ever, and these comments made me realize that many of my more recent stories and essays that have made it into print, have been in journals that have previously published my work, making me “known” in a certain sense. Maybe John is right--?? I hate to think so.

Finally, I like submitting online for the convenience and speed of the process (not to mention no dead trees factor and the saving $$ on stamps). As I mentioned before, I was alarmed that under my “account” at various journals I (and the editors, I assume) can view an instant record of my previous rejections. Now, I see that at least at one journal, there’s a notation that I’m now a subscriber. I’m sure that doesn’t really matter in the end…does it?

How to Be the Perfect Blog Guest

If you’ve got a book coming out and are thinking of doing a “blog book tour”—so in vogue these days; so much cheaper than a “real” book tour where you actually travel to bookstores—then you must check out this post on Buzz, Balls & Hype; Anne Mini offers suggestions about how to be a guest blogger.

And if you’re a writer, and the words “blog book tour” mean nothing to you, maybe you should also check out that same post, so you can get up to speed on one of the brave new world ways to market your book. (It’s not enough simply to write them anymore, you know!)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Guest in Progress: Carollyne Hutter

Carollyne Hutter recently wrote this wonderful piece about how she decided to transition from writing for adults to writing for the young adult market, and now she’s offering us some excellent and practical advice for how to go about making that switch. Even if you’re not contemplating such a move yourself, read on…her suggestions are innovative and interesting, offering food for thought on how to approach any type of research for your writing.

Resources for YA Writing
by Carollyne Hutter

Teenagers often feel that they are caught between the adult and children’s world. They’re about to step into adulthood, but not they’re not quite there. Young adult novels (YAs) are like their audience (teenagers)—they share a lot in common with adult novels, yet differences exist.

To make the transition from writing adult novels to teenager novels, I turned to a number of sources. Here are some I found useful. I would love to hear what others have found helpful.


One of my favorite ways to learn about YA novels is to hear editors and writers speak about the field and their works. Small and large conferences organized by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators offer an array of YA editors and authors. I have really enjoyed these YA speakers: Aimee Friedman (author and editor at Scholastic), Ann Brashares (of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series), and Ben Schrank (publisher of Razorbill). All three were so delightful that I wanted to invite them in for tea to chat some more.


On her blog, Susan Gray has compiled a wonderful list of blogs that deal with YAs. While you’re at the site, check it out! It’s an excellent blog.

Books (writing books and YA novels)

To steer you through the process of writing a YA, I like Writing And Selling The Young Adult Novel by K L Going. Other books on the topic are The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing for Young Adults by Deborah Perlberg and Wild Ink: How to Write Fiction for Young Adults by Victoria Hanley.

Of course, one of the best ways to learn how to write a YA is to read YAs. The blockbuster series—the Twilight saga and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants—are must reads, just so one knows what’s popular. I do recommend going farther afield. Most libraries and bookstores have a YA section. Browse the shelves and see what catches your eye. I want to put in a plug for a YA I really enjoyed—Not Like You by Deborah Davis. It has a tough, independent, yet complicated heroine.

I also suggest finding out what teens are reading. If you live in Washington DC area, you can pick up "Teens for Teens" at the Montgomery county libraries, in which teens recommend to other teens what to read. It’s a full, rich list that includes many adult novels.

Teen World

Part of writing a YA is stepping into the teen world. Besides books, there are magazines, movies, TV shows, etc. .., aimed at teens. Aimee Friedman says she spends time on Facebook to get a glimpse into the teen world. I enjoy reading Teen Vogue—it’s fun to see what “in” in the fashion, art, and celebrity world.

I also visit friends who are high school teachers and sit in their classes. That way I get to soak in the high school milieu.

Teens and Technology

Today’s teen’s world is full of technology—text messaging, IMS, Facebook, etc . . . Some YA authors just avoid the technology issue, like it’s a cross between rocket science and a rash. They find teen technology beyond their expertise and annoying. I suggest taking a parenting class (even if you don’t have children) on teens and technology. It will explain all you need to know and put teen technology in perspective. In the Washington area, Parent Encouragement Program (PEP) offers excellent classes on this topic.

Those are my suggestions. I would love to hear what other YA sources writers and readers recommend. ~~ Carollyne Hutter

Editor's Note: Please feel free to email me any additional suggestions you might have, and I’ll post them.

About: For over a decade, Carollyne Hutter has been a freelance writer/editor in the Washington, DC area, specializing in international and environmental topics. Her website— —will be up soon. Please visit the site to read Carollyne’s stories (including the opening chapters of her YA novel, Homesick), quirky essays, and nonfiction pieces. You can contact her at

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pick Your Poison

Here’s the question of the day: Which is worse, having the fine literary journal you sent your best work to sit on it for months and months and months and then reject it? Or having that fine journal reject your work within six days of receipt?

On one hand, there’s a lot of time wasted with the months-and-months approach, though that does lend itself to a certain amount of hopeful daydreaming that can help while away the hours.

On the other hand, are we to assume that with the six-day rejection your story was truly read and considered? Or did some half-wit not like your first sentence? Or perhaps react badly to your font? Or just need to clear the stacks of crap off their desk RIGHT NOW?

I was clever enough to create an anonymous, one-second quiz so you can express your opinion on this urgent matter. Unfortunately, I wasn’t clever enough to figure out how to post the quiz right here, so you’ll have to go to this link:

So, which do you prefer: the long lingering pain of the slow rejection or the too-fast, ripping off a Band-Aid approach? Inquiring minds want to know!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Joe the Plumber: Not a Plumber, Not a Writer

From Sunday’s New York Times, Timothy Egan’s “Typing Without a Clue” defends real writers like us in the face of “writers” like Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin and their fat-cat book deals:

“Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.

“Writing is hard, even for the best wordsmiths. Ernest Hemingway said the most frightening thing he ever encountered was ‘a blank sheet of paper.’ And Winston Churchill called the act of writing a book ‘a horrible, exhaustive struggle, like a long bout of painful illness.’

“If Joe really wants to write, he should keep his day job and spend his evenings reading Rick Reilly’s sports columns, Peggy Noonan’s speeches, or Jess Walter’s fiction. He should open Dostoevsky or Norman Maclean — for osmosis, if nothing else. He should study Frank McCourt on teaching or Annie Dillard on writing.

“The idea that someone who stumbled into a sound bite can be published, and charge $24.95 for said words, makes so many real writers think the world is unfair.”

Read the rest here.

Potomac Review Fiction Contest Now Accepting Entries

Maryland’s Potomac Review announces the return of the Annual Fiction Contest:

1st Prize: $1,000
2nd Prize: $250

Submission Guidelines:
Send 1 story (up to 15 pgs), along with $20 reading fee payable to Potomac Review. All entrants will receive a one-year (2 issues) subscription.

Put author’s name and address on the cover letter only. Include a cover letter (including complete contact info, brief bio, and name of story), and a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) for contest results. Entries will not be returned.

All entries must be typed and previously unpublished; no name or address should appear on the story itself.

Simultaneous submissions are acceptable, but please note this in your cover letter and notify us immediately of acceptance elsewhere.

Deadline: Postmarked December 1st-March 15th.

Winners announced April 15th, 2009

The winning story will appear in issue #46 of Potomac Review. Only the 1st prize entry will be published in the journal. Runner-up will be posted on the website.

Entries that do not follow contest guidelines will be disqualified

Please direct all contest questions to: Details at

Mail Submissions to:
Potomac Review
Montgomery College
51 Mannakee Street
Macklin Tower Room 212
Rockville, MD 20850

Mark Your Calendars for January Publishing Workshop

Mark your calendars:

The Writer's Center is offering a one-day workshop, "Publishing for Poets and Fiction Writers," that will give you some of the tools you need to get your work noticed. If you need a little push in the publishing direction, Nancy Naomi Carlson will demystify the publishing process and help you build your published works resume.

Workshop description: Have you wanted to get your writing published but didn't know where to start? Are you already publishing but want to publish in more competitive markets? In this workshop we will learn about the business of poetry and short story submission, covering such topics as targeting appropriate "markets" for your work, writing a compelling cover letter, tracking submissions, dealing with simultaneous submissions, overcoming fear of rejection, and reading between the lines of an editor's response.

This one-day workshop meets January 17 from 1PM to 5PM at The Writer's Center at 4508 Walsh Street in Bethesda, MD 20815. To register for this class, please visit or call (301) 654-8664.

Monday, December 8, 2008

ISO Writers Born Between 1960-1982

At last…my generation is getting its own voice with this call for submissions (though, as noted in this article in Sunday's Washington Post, this officially is the "dumbest generation"):

Last call for submissions for A Generation Defining Itself: Volume 8

This book series is a platform from which a generation (born 1960 to 1982) is speaking out about its realities, dispelling the narrow, simplified stereotypes created by the mass media and commercial marketing.

We are beginning to finalize the selection of texts and will still consider texts sent by December 31st. All genres sought, from poetry and lyrics to prose and essays. (Note: according to the web site, previously published work is okay.)

All inquiries/submissions to; for more details and complete guidelines, please go to

Query Letter Workshop: Register Now!

Here’s a query letter workshop being offered by Washington National Book Association (WNBA):

You've seen what's being published, you know your work is just as good –but in a time when agents are overworked and publishers are inundated with requests, how do you persuade anyone to actually READ your manuscript? As Instructor BARBARA ESSTMAN observes, a good query letter sells your book idea, proves your writing credentials and presents ideas for marketing and targeting your audience – all in one tightly written page. Learn what should go in or stay out of this magic letter and how to present the pertinent information that will get you over the first hurdle.

Though there won't be time to critique individual letters, she will offer some samples for discussion. Bring pen and paper for note-taking, though handouts will be provided, and if you have a query you've drawn upalready, bring it along – as the group reviews do's and don't's, you'll have yours to apply them to. Recording of the workshop is permitted, as long as it is not disruptive to the class.

Query Letter Workshop
Sat., Jan 10th, 2009 from 1-3pm
Snow date if needed: Sat., Jan 17th, 10am – noon.*
The Writer's Center
4508 Walsh St.
Bethesda, MD 20815
Cost: $45 to WNBA** or Writer's Center members, $55 to non-members

Class size limited to first 20 registrants.
To register, please send your check, PAYABLE TO: WNBA WASHINGTON, to:
NC Weil, WNBA Washington Chapter President
8009 Piney Branch Rd.
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Instructor BARBARA ESSTMAN is a nationally awarded and internationally published writer. Her novels, The Other Anna and Night Ride Home, were both adapted for film by Hallmark Productions. Her short fiction has been recognized by Redbook and the Pushcart Prizes. With Virginia Hartman, she co-edited A More Perfect Union: Stories and Poems about the Modern Wedding. She teaches advanced workshops at local universities and The Writer's Center.

* (If the workshop is postponed, those unable to attend the snow date session will receive a full refund AS LONG AS YOU NOTIFY ORGANIZERS AT LEAST A WEEK BEFORE THE WORKSHOP IS HELD.)
** to qualify for the WNBA member rate you must be paid up for 2008-9.

For questions about the program or your eligibility, contact NC Weil:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Work in Progress: "No Tears in the Writer..."

I did some additional reading in the new edition of Best American Short Stories, guest edited by Salman Rushdie, and found another excellent story: “Buying Lenin” by Miroslav Penkov, in which an old Bulgarian communist grandfather and his capitalist grandson butt heads. There’s one tiny bit of authorial manipulation (in my opinion), but otherwise, I thought it was a compelling story about characters who seemed fresh and complicated. (See my previous thoughts on BASS here.)

Also complicated was the “story of the story”—the author’s note at the back of the book that explained the genesis and writing process of the piece. This one was especially notable, I thought, for its discussion of persistence and revision, and of how in the end, it’s the writer who needs to feel satisfied. Writing to please a workshop, or writing group, or teacher is never quite enough…we write to satisfy OURSELVES. Listen to the comments of other readers, yes, but when you know your story isn’t quite working, listen most closely to that voice inside you, even when it means more work, even at the risk of being sentimental or some such other “workshop” sin. As Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

Here’s an excerpt from Penkov’s note:

“…The first line of the story came to me then, verbatim, as it is now. Wouldn’t it be funny, I thought, to write about the two ends of the chain—and old man painfully obsessed with his ideals and his past, and his grandson fighting to escape this same past and these same ideals? I knew that grandfather and grandson would come together in the end and that a strange, absurd cause would unite them. Wouldn’t it be funny, I wondered, if someone tried to sell Lenin’s body on eBay, and if someone else could buy that body? What an awful capitalist thing to do.

“I wrote a version of the story in two days and thought—that was that. I had not bothered to fulfill my initial idea, and now this was the story of an old Communist fanatic, whom I, as a writer, had failed to take seriously. I had left him a character in a twelve-page story.

“I presented the story in my first MFA workshop, and most of my friends liked it fine. At the back of her copy Ellen Gilchrist, who then led the workshop, had written only, ‘Send it out for publication.’

“A week after that, a visiting writer I admire greatly came to our program. He liked the opening paragraph but said the story ought to be about the grandson. He said the story, in its present form, was a political allegory no one would read. The characters, he said, came from a world where people worry if there will be food on the table. In America, he said, people worried about new cars. It’s never too late, he told me, to go back to your undergraduate psychology major and get a master’s.

“Instead, I expanded the story, put much more of the grandson in, and thought—that was that. My workshop hated the new version.

“They said the grandfather had lost much of his charm and eccentricity. I rewrote again. I was, as Americans might say, frustrated. I printed all scenes on separate pages and spread the pages across the floor, and rearranged, and rearranged, and in the end felt like a fool. I let a month go by, then sat down and wrote more scenes. Hunting for crawfish, which I knew my great-grandfather had loved to do, and the final letter. It is a preachy letter, sentimental, as workshop folk might say. But as I wrote it, I wept. I was the grandson, away, facing death, alone. It is an awful thing to weep along with the characters you write. It is a terrifying blessing.”

The story was published in The Southern Review before being reprinted in Best American Short Stories 2008.

May your own writing today feel like a terrifying blessing.

The Sky Really Is Falling!

Other blogs are covering yesterday’s MAJOR publishing “Black Wednesday” shake-up far better than I could, but all writers should be aware that Big Things are going on at the New York houses: restructuring, lay-offs, and much uncertainty about the future. Time for us to hunker down and focus on our work…or maybe it's time to write the next Harry Potter book to save the industry!

Here are some good places to go for more details:

Galleycat, for facts and news
Maud Newton, for analysis
Editorial Ass, for an overview
Janet Reid, for some common sense

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"In for Another Dollar" Update, Or, Maybe I AM a Dunce

Recent posts have complained very bitterly about the difficult process of finding submission guidelines for various premiere publications. While I still think this information is harder to locate than it should be—most journals seem to have a dedicated link called “guidelines” or “submissions”—as it turns out, apparently these publications are actually NOT in cahoots to keep me from sending along my work to them.

Eli from McSweeney’s kindly sent along the link to that journal’s submission info and told me how I could navigate to it on the web site: “That info is indeed on our site, down towards the bottom where most of the links live. If you go to and do a search for Submission Guidelines, I think you'll find it, but if not, here's the direct link:”

And my former workshop member Mark Prebilic sent me a link to the Atlantic info, though I still couldn’t find it off the main site when I rechecked to see if I was a dunce:

Also, I have a report from someone that the New Yorker actually did respond to her story submission after about three months:

"We regret that we are unable to use the enclosed material. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider it. The Editors"

So, there you go—now that we’ve got the code, get cracking. Happy submitting to all—and needless to say, after all my whining, I’ll surely never see my name in any of these pages, but consider it my sacrifice for the greater writer good, and think kindly of me when YOUR story is published….

Please Don't Reject My Rejection

Here’s a backdoor way to get yourself published: Get your rejection letter(s) selected for Other People's Rejection Letters, an anthology of rejections to be published by Random House. Details are here.:

“The book's premise is that nearly everyone, no matter their age, upbringing,intelligence, or ability, has been rejected somewhere along the road,sometimes brutally. While each letter may have stung the person who receivedit, taken together they have the potential to soothe. And entertain.”

Oh, yeah…we all agree that it’s very entertaining to be told you’re a lousy writer!

ISO Polish, Polish-American Poetry

Poet John Guzlowski announces that he and Christina Pacosz are editing a special feature devoted to Polish and Polish Diaspora writers in the poetry journal Kritya. Details are available at his blog, Writing the Polish Diaspora (, but basically:

Kritya, an online Journal of Poetry published in India, is doing a special issue on contemporary Polish and Polish-American poetry and is looking for poetry and art by Poles or people of Polish descent. The poems should touch on some aspects of Polish or Polish Diaspora culture. The journal can be seen at The deadline is February 1, 2009, and the issue is scheduled to appear in May of 2009.Send your contributions to the co-editors for this special issue, John Guzlowski or Christina Pacosz at and

John is a fabulous poet and a strong advocate of the Polish-American experience in art; for a treat, you can hear Garrison Keillor read his poem, “What My Father Believed” on the Writer’s Almanac by going to this link:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In For Another Dollar

I’ve railed against Crazyhorse for their mystery contest judge and then castigated The New Yorker for not responding to unsolicited fiction/poetry submissions. Can it get worse?


Maybe I’m a dunce (always possible!) but I couldn’t find any fiction submission information whatsoever on the web sites of The Atlantic Monthly or McSweeney’s, two premier markets for writers. Yes, maybe I should have a copy of the publication in front of me and maybe that information is provided there, and maybe purchasers should be rewarded by getting this top-secret information.

But plenty of other journals are kind enough to offer submission guidelines to poor writers who simply want to know if a 6000-word story is too long or whether the journal is open for general submissions or are reading only for a theme issue.

Also, you know what’s a tad depressing? Submitting through those online systems and seeing your previous submissions pop up, with dates and titles and “status”: REJECTED. Like that doesn’t affect the person reading on the other end? Possibly I'm paranoid, but I can see the thought bubble: We’ve rejected her before, so why should this story be any better?

The submission process is NOT for the faint-hearted! One site that helps is Duotrope, a free, searchable database of journals and their up-to-date submission requirements. You can tailor your search by word length, genre, payment (haha), etc. Highly recommended!

P.S. Please feel free to prove me wrong and find the submissions info for The Atlantic or McSweeney's online. I'll publish it here as a public service for writers everywhere.

Contests for Virginia Writers

The James River Writers announces the following contests, open to Virginia writers:

Best Poetry Contest
Deadline (postmark): Monday, December 15, 2008
Entry fee: $15. Checks should be made out to James River Writers.

Poets may submit up to four original, never-published poems. A poet may enter only once. Submissions must be mailed to
Richmond magazine
Best Poetry Contest
2201 W. Broad St., Suite 105
Richmond, VA 23220

The 3rd annual Best Unpublished Novel Contest
Deadline (postmark): Thursday, January 15, 2009
Entry fee: $25. Checks should be made out to James River Writers.

Entries: Submit the first 50 pages of your manuscript by Jan. 15, 2009 (postmark deadline) to:
Richmond magazine
Best Unpublished Novel Contest
2201 W. Broad St., Suite 105
Richmond, VA 23220


Contest winners will receive $500.00 and a ticket to the James River Writers Conference, October 9-10, 2009, at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. The winning poetry and an excerpt from the winning novel will be published in RICHMOND magazine.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Washington Post Publication: "Death Notice"

Over the weekend I had an essay called “Death Notice” published in The Washington Post Sunday Magazine, about the death of my first husband:

“No one likes to hear about such a loss. Euphemisms help: a loss. Passed on. I refuse those words because they're soft, hiding the reality that this could happen to you; someone you love could drop dead one Sunday morning while eating cornflakes. (Or that someone could be you.)”

If you're interested, the link is here.

In for a Dime, In for a Dollar

Last week I whined about Crazyhorse not telling us who the final judges for their fiction and poetry contests are. Now, a bigger whine about the biggest boy of all: The New Yorker.

Yes, we all want to be published there. Yes, we all send our work there. Yes, some of that work isn’t perhaps “ready” to be published at all…and yes, even though the magazine publishes one story per issue, that’s still only, say 48 stories a year out of what must be hundreds of thousands of submissions annually.

But still. I RESENT the fact that they won’t even bother acknowledge a fiction submission, either with a pre-printed rejection notice, or an email rejection. How hard can that be? It’s the New Yorker—get some work-for-free interns to stuff a bunch of envelopes or fire off cut-and-paste rejections. Frankly, it’s RUDE not to respond in some way. (I’m not sure I believe anyone reads the unsolicited stories under the current system, so having interns respond without reading doesn’t really feel like much of a change.)

Don’t believe me? Here’s what it says on the web site (once you hunt to find the info about sending them an unsolicited manuscript—it’s under “contact us,” which is under “about us”):

“Although we do read all submissions, we cannot respond to them individually or return them.”

I should count my blessings, though, right? Non-fiction writers aren’t even allowed to submit, except to "Talk of the Town"!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

See you next Monday. Happy travels, happy cooking, and happy eating to all. Here’s our menu, with many old favorites and some new experiments. Steve is responsible for booze, and I'm responsible for food (with his input and a veto power he's not afraid to use!):

Crudités & Green Goddess Dressing
Pecan & Goat-Cheese Marbles
Bacon Breadsticks
The Perfect Manhattan
The Gilroy Cocktail

Turkey & Cornbread Stuffing
Classic Cranberry Sauce
Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
Gratineed Mustard Creamed Onions
Streuseled Sweet Potato Casserole
Brussels Sprouts Cockaigne
Pinot Noir

Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Coffee & Tea

I Didn't Need to See This

I know writers are supposed to suffer…but this much? From publishing blog GalleyCat:

“The publishing world was caught off guard by yesterday's announcement from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt of a temporary freeze on new acquisitions, and throughout the afternoon and evening, industry insiders tried to make sense of the situation. Our immediate speculation was that the "exceptions" HMH pre-emptively granted itself would almost certainly include legacy authors like Philip Roth or Cynthia Ozick, while "midlist" authors who'd been with the house before and were up for new contracts should probably have "a serious talk with [their] agent."

“The most serious consequences, however, will probably be in terms of HMH's suport of new literary voices. "I've got a short story collection from a debut author on submission there," one agent told us last night. "I guess I know how that will turn out." Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management took a more skeptical view. "I think it's smoke and mirrors," she said of the announcement. "If they want something, they're going to get it." She pointed out that some HMH editors were known, even before yesterday's freeze, for extremely judicious buying practices, and questioned how much less they could acquire (other than, of course, nothing). As for the reduction in the HMH frontlist, which the Wall Street Journal estimated as more than 15 books a month, one editor at a rival house told us "a lot of other houses ought to do that."

“"This is a whirlwind blown out of proportion to what it really is," Reid continued, calling yesterday's buzz a consequence of "the first huge economic downturn in the age of transparency." Within moments of the announcement items had been posted to sites like GalleyCat and PW and people started talking about it on Twitter: "We were all on it in five minutes," she noted.

“Other agents expressed surprise that HMH had chosen to go public with its non-acquisition policy, speculating that other houses would probably start buying fewer books as well and just not tell anybody outside their office; one theorized that the decision wasn't so much a reaction to the current economic climate as a way to deal with the huge debts racked up in the merger of the two publishing houses last year. "

Yes, Crazyhorse, I'm Talking to You

I recently finished a new short story and was thinking about entering it in the Crazyhorse fiction contest (details here). As you may recall, I recently noted here how much I like this journal. Not so much now: I looked over the contest rules and saw that they don’t reveal the final judge’s name until AFTER the contest is over. Sure, the chances of my manuscript getting to the final round and actually being seen by the final judge are teeny-tiny, but knowing who that person is affects my decision about which story I might send. I imagine, say, George Saunders might prefer a different type of story than the type of story I would guess Alice Munro might like.

Maybe I shouldn’t try to be such a mind reader and just send in my story.

Or maybe Crazyhorse should reveal their final judge in advance so it doesn’t appear as though what they’re really interested in is raking in our $16 reading fees.

Gatsby Book Club

I’m not pleased with the format of Slate’s book club—audio, meaning I have to listen to a 45-minute discussion, vs. reading/skimming the same amount of text in less than half the time—but I certainly approve of the book they’ve chosen: The Great Gatsby! Maybe after the Thanksgiving rush, I’ll have 45 minutes to sit quietly and focus on something that isn’t food/guest/tablecloth-related. If you’ve got the time now, the link is here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Poetry Contest for Kids: And Good Advice for All of Us

It’s never too early for kids to catch the writing bug—and what could inspire more passionate poetry than a call to save the whales? And even if you don’t think you’re the audience for this call for submissions, do check out the “rules” for writing poems below, especially #4...very smart, and we all could take much of this advice to heart.

Entries must be submitted by December 31, 2008

Save The Whales encourages children up to and including age 13 to submit poems they have written for inclusion in a poetry book the organization is putting together for publication. The idea for a book came about because Save The Whales has received inspiring poems by children. Some of the children’s work may be viewed under ABOUT US/Inspiration/Poems.

If you are a child age 13 or younger and have written an original poem, or love whales and would like to write a poem, please submit it to Save The Whales by emailing Maris Sidenstecker at or mail to Save The Whales - Poem Entry, 1192 Waring Street, Seaside, CA 93955. Be sure to put your name and age, address, phone number and email address on the entry. Please give your poem a title.

If your poem is selected, a parent will have to sign a release giving Save The Whales permission to use the child’s original work. For a poem to appear on their website, only an email confirmation from a parent is required.


If you want to write a whale poem or any kind of poem, here are some things you'll want to know. A poem is like a tiny story. Something's always left out of a poem, not just because it's a small bit of writing but because you want to leave a spot where your reader can climb in! Not all poems rhyme but all poems have rhythm. It can be the sound of your heart beat, that quiet or the sound of a hundred people clapping together, making a pattern of sound.

1. Your poem doesn't have to make logical sense.

2. Don't plan what you're going to write. Let yourself be surprised. Write your poem word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence.

3. Your imagination is ENORMOUS! Trust it to help you out.

4. Be foolish. (That's often when we write our best.)

5. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar or neatness. (Of course, they're important but not in a first draft.)

6. There is no wrong way to write a poem.

After you've written your poem, read it over to yourself, be sure it feels right, sounds right. Then put it away for a day or two. When you read it again you may want to make changes. You may notice you left something out that you'd thought was there. Now rewrite it and make sure to spell the words correctly. Check your grammar and punctuation.

Be sure to include on your entry:
• name and age
• mailing address
• phone number
• email address
• a title.

Neither Snow, Nor Rain...

Here’s the reason we never get those check-filled acceptance letters from literary journal editors and our importane movie deal offers from Hollywood agents: mail carriers hoard mail instead of delivering it.

“In 2006, the last year the U.S. Postal Service released figures, there were 515 arrests and 466 convictions for "internal theft." That figure includes abandonment and hoarding cases, where the motive has remained constant since the days of penny postage: A worker gets overwhelmed or simply disinclined to finish his route.” (from Slate magazine)

Escape Your Writing Routine

If you really want to get away and write, you might want to look into this residency in Switzerland! From the website:

"The Château de Lavigny International Writers' Residence was founded by the late Jane Rowohlt in memory of her husband, the German publisher, Heinrich Maria Ledig-Rowohlt. Her wish was to bequeath their home, the Château de Lavigny, for a writers’ residence offering and fostering “a spirit of international community and creativity.” In 1996, a small, dedicated international committee of writers and administrators agreed to serve as volunteers to create this institution. While Ledig-Rowohlt published Albert Camus, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Günther Grass, Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, Harold Pinter, Jean-Paul Sartre, and many other key twentieth century writers, he always looked for new voices. In that spirit, the Residence encourages emerging writers as well as established ones to apply. It looks for writers interested in exchanging their ideas as well as concentrating on their own work."

Monday, November 24, 2008

I Feel So Special

Yes, you never know what you’ll find on the internet (how did we spend our time in the olden days?) Is This Your Name? is a site that give you fun “facts” about your name, and this one caught my attention:

According to the US Census Bureau°, 0.235% of US residents have the first name 'Leslie' and 0.0002% have the surname 'Pietrzyk'. The US has around 300 million residents, so we guesstimate there are 1 Americans who go by the name 'Leslie Pietrzyk'.

Check out your own name here.

Your "Beautiful Collection of Lyrical Linked Stories"

Blogger Editorial Ass (who is a NY editor) guest blogs on The Writers’ Group about how she knows when she’s fallen in love with a book and wants to acquire it:

“There are ways of pitching the same book that can make it more or less attractive to an editor (who, keep in mind, will have to sell the concept to her money-minded publisher and sales department, not to mention about a jillion other people). Stay away from generic praise and focus on what is special and unique about the book--"A beautiful collection of lyrical linked stories" means much less to me (and, thereby, to my boss) than "What happens to a tight-knit small-town community when they discover a secret in their church basement?"--even if we're talking about the exact same book. I know it sounds horribly commercial and low-minded, but a memorable pitch will set your manuscript apart from the other 15 beautiful and lyrical books I have on my desk at any given time.”

Read more here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Guest in Progress: Gail Langer Karwoski

Kids can be the toughest audience for a writer to approach—if they’re not interested, they won’t nod politely and complain later…you’ll immediately know it! Yet, what audience could be more enthusiastic and more fun? Sylvan Publishing publicist Sara Dobie has passed along this piece by author/illustrator Gail Langer Karwoski offering some tips to win over this elusive, book-loving group as well as suggestions about how to get yourself booked in the first place.

Many of these tips are useful to the adult audience as well. Who doesn’t love interesting props during a talk? I remember seeing Carolyn Parkhurst read from her lovely first novel, The Dogs of Babel, and she brought a gadget that makes square hard-boiled eggs (yes! really!) as referred to in the scene she read. How fun is that?

The ABCs of School Visits - A Primer for Authors and Illustrators
By Gail Langer Karwoski

How do schools learn about you?
At most schools, author/illustrator visits are arranged by the media specialist. Eventually, word-of-mouth will be your best advertisement. Many school media specialists subscribe to list-servs in their district or state, and – if they are pleased with your visit – they’ll transmit information about you to others. Note: Most schools only invite one author per year, so the word-of-mouth method snowballs gradually.

How do you begin? When you present programs or autograph at public libraries, stores, and conferences, hand out your business card or author brochure to teachers and librarians. (You can arrange your own book signing events or ask the publicist at your publishing company to help.)

You can reach out to teachers and librarians by presenting a workshop at conferences, as well. To apply to be a presenter at state, regional, or national conferences, you will need to submit a proposal. Go to the organization’s website and download the application form. Consider starting with the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the Association of School Librarians (ASL). Remember that the application deadline will be about 6 months before the conference, and your proposal stands a better chance of acceptance at a state/regional conference than at a national conference.

A website is also a great way to spread the word. Be sure to list “key words” that will help school media specialists locate your website when they search.

If there is a children’s bookstore in your area, contact the owner to see if s/he books authors/illustrators into schools.

Some author/illustrators send out postcards/brochures to schools in a district, or they pay to join up with a service, such as that advertises to schools. Others employ a booking agency. These services can be very expensive, so you would need to be available for many visits to pay off the initial investment.

What do you do in your school programs?
One good way to develop a school program is by watching what other author/illustrators do. Call the media specialists at schools in your area to see if they are hosting a visit, and ask if you can join the audience.

You will discover that many authors/illustrators talk about their experience (their creating/publishing “journey”) – how their first book was researched, written/illustrated, and published. Getting a story published is a rarity, and both kids and adults are usually intrigued by the process. People are astonished to learn, for instance, that writers usually do not find their own illustrators or that the sale price of a book does not go directly and entirely into the author’s and illustrator’s pockets.

If your book’s topic has a relationship with the school curriculum, you may want to build your program around the information that you researched when you created your story.

Include audiovisuals in your programs to illustrate what you are saying. Nowadays, most schools are able to project PowerPoint programs. All schools have an overhead projector to project transparencies.

Kids love props. I bring stuffed animals to show children the marine and river mammals in my bedtime stories, Water Beds: Sleeping in the Ocean and River Beds: Sleeping in the World’s Rivers. I pass around quartz crystals, like the “sparkly rock” that Julie finds in my Earth Science book, Julie the Rockhound.

Keep your programs short enough to fit into the school schedule. Forty-five minutes is a good length for grades 3 and older. But primary school’ers (Grades pre-K through 2) get squirmy after 30 minutes. Allow a brief amount of time for questions and answers at the end of each program. Be sure the school schedule includes 10-15 minute breaks between programs. (You may need a bathroom break. Plus, it takes time to get a group of children out of the room and bring a new group in.)

As you accumulate more books, you may want to offer different programs geared to your various titles or to the age/grade of your audience. Often, schools want authors/illustrators to do a hands-on program (a writing workshop or a drawing class) for selected participants. It may sound like a lot of work to prepare several programs, but you can add new programs gradually. Eventually, you will probably enjoy having several programs so that you don’t find yourself saying the same thing over and over.

In addition to creating a program, do you do anything else to prepare for a visit?
Yes! I usually exchange at least 4 emails or phone calls with the person who is arranging my visit…

--I ask to see the day’s schedule so I can make suggestions, like grouping children by age/grade and allowing “travel time” between programs.

--I ask for directions to the school – including landmarks to help me find my way in an unfamiliar area - and instructions for parking.

--I help the media specialist arrange for my books to be on hand, if the school wants to offer book sales and autographing.

--I ask what room I will speak in. (I think that media centers provide the best atmosphere for an author/illustrator program. But a larger room may be necessary. A multi-purpose room is the next best facility. Gyms and cafeterias are often noisy and hot; they offer poor acoustics and awkward seating, but they may be the only available rooms in a school.)

--I let the school know what equipment I will need, such as a microphone if I will address large groups or speak in a gym.

--I exchange home and mobile numbers with the school contact person, in case of last-minute problems, such as a traffic jam.

What do you wear to a school?
The best advice that I’ve ever received about wardrobe in school is: Wear comfortable shoes!

Choose clothes that would be appropriate in an everyday setting where you meet the public – think conservative skirts or nice slacks. In many schools, teachers are not permitted to wear jeans (except on special occasions), so you should avoid them, too. Schools frown on revealing clothing – no cleavage or midriffs showing, no short shorts, and no skin-tight clothes.

Children enjoy bright colors, and it’s easier to pay attention to a speaker who is dressed in colorful clothes.

Since you don’t know whether you’ll be speaking in a too-cold or too-hot room, dress in layers and avoid heavy sweaters. (Generally, school rooms are overheated, rather than too chilly.)

What about book sales?
Most schools offer books for sale to students and faculty while an author/illustrator is on campus. For the children and faculty who can afford to buy a book, this is a special souvenir of your visit.

Where does the school get a supply of your books? The media specialist may:
--order books directly from the publisher
--ask a nearby bookstore to supply them
--request that you bring books along

Book sales can be used as a fundraiser by the school to partially or totally offset the cost of your visit. How does this work? The supplier provides your books at a discount (usually this is up to 20% off the cover price) to the school. The school may choose to pass on all or part of this discount to the book buyers. Or it may decide to sell the books at cover price and keep the difference. (Since schools are nonprofit organizations, they do not need to charge sales tax, so – even at cover price - buyers still receive a little savings from school book sales.)

If a school contacts your publisher to get a supply of books, it will also receive a shipping label to return any unsold books. Some schools think that returning unsold books is a hassle, so they prefer to use a nearby bookstore or request that you supply your own books. If you are willing to bring along boxes of books, this is a great convenience for the school since you will take home any unsold copies. (Note: Usually, it will take a week or more for the school to issue a check to you to cover the cost of all books sold during your visit.)

What happens if you run out of copies when you are at school? I take orders and send the autographed books after my visit.

You will be very busy on the day of your visit and so will the media specialist, so you will need a helper to take charge of book sales. Suggest that the media specialist designate a paraprofessional or a parent volunteer to take book orders, collect checks and money, issue change, and sort books into piles by grade and homeroom.

Be sure to bring along a pen for autographing. I like to use black, click-top Sharpies, since they make clear, sweeping, fast-drying lines on my picture books. (I always bring an extra, in case the first Sharpie runs out of ink.)

How much money do you receive as a stipend?
My stipend has increased over time. When I began, I charged $300/day. That included 4-5 programs of 45-minutes each, plus autographing and lunch with selected students. Over time, I raised my rates – usually by $50-100 each year. Today, with 9 books in print and a decade of experience as a visiting author, I average about 25 school visits each year, and at the end of the year, my stipends usually exceed my income from royalties.

In general, authors and illustrators charge more as they accumulate:
· years of experience doing author visits
· books
· awards

Most authors/illustrators set a stipend based on a certain number of programs per day. Typically, the base rate seems to be for 3 programs per day, with an extra fee for a 4th program. (I learned the hard way that it’s wise to specify how many programs you are willing/able to do. When I first started, I sometimes let schools cram in as many programs as they wished. I discovered that I was inviting abuse – some schools scheduled me for 7 programs, with no breaks, and by the end of the school day, I could barely utter a sentence.)

Usually, authors/illustrators agree to autograph books while on campus, for no extra charge. You may be asked to have lunch with selected students or to be interviewed by the school news team; if you are willing, these “extras” are also part of the basic fee for the day.

Distance is also a factor in setting a fee. Most authors/illustrators charge less, as a courtesy, for schools in their home district. By the same token, they usually charge extra if an airplane ride is involved. Some speakers build travel/lodging/meals into their “long distance” rate; others specify the stipend and add “plus travel/lodging/meals.” (Who makes the arrangements for lodging and who purchases airplane tickets? Usually, the author books his/her plane, but the school arranges the lodging at a nearby motel. The school usually provides lunch on campus.)

Before you visit a school, discuss the amount of your stipend. Some schools will need you to create a simple contract, so they have a “paper trail” for their bookkeeper’s records. At most schools, a check for your stipend will be ready for you on the day you arrive.

If you don’t need the money, is there any reason to do Author Visits to Schools?
(My goodness - breathes there an author/illustrator who does NOT need the money?)

In addition to income, author visits are beneficial in many ways:

--Writing/illustrating is a solitary occupation. It’s reinforcing to meet the youngsters, teachers, and librarians who are enjoying your books.

--Being around kids is the best way to keep current about what kids are learning, laughing about, and interested in. Your stock of info about kids will help you select future writing topics and create age-appropriate imagery.

--Usually, schools sell copies of your books for you to autograph while on campus. These book sales are nothing to sneeze at – at one school visit, a hundred or more books may sell! While bookstores return “older” books to make room for the newest titles, your books are THE latest and greatest whenever you visit a school. Many authors manage to keep their books in print because they visit many schools.

--School visits forge lasting relationships between teachers and librarians and YOUR books. These adults are likely to follow your career, recommend your books to others, and purchase your future titles.

--Best of all, school visits transform kids into lifelong readers. When a child can “touch” the human hand behind the printed page, books become deeply personal and important. After meeting an author/illustrator, a child feels a special connection with a book. Eventually, this spark grows into a fire that lights a lifelong love for reading.

For more information about Gail Karwoski, visit her website, or visit the Sylvan Dell Publishing website,

About Sylvan Dell Publishing
Sylvan Dell picture books with science, math and nature themes excite children’s imaginations through fun stories, vibrant artwork and a 3-5 page “For Creative Minds” educational section in the back of each book. But that is just the start…what really makes the books unique, is their tremendous amount of free, online educational material available for cross-curricular learning, including: 30-80 page Teaching Activities, Interactive Reading and Math Quizzes, and much more. They have 57 authors and illustrators on the Sylvan Dell team and their 35 titles have been honored as nominees, finalists, or winners of more than 50 book awards. Sylvan Dell eBooks, available in English and Spanish, are wonderful for use with in-classroom projection or interactive whiteboards (Smartboards) and are ideal for Spanish language classes and ESL students at all grade levels. For more information:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thanksgiving Menu

I’m working on finalizing my menu (are the yummy little onions in creamy mustard worth the trouble of peeling all those darn onions by hand?), so I want to point out that this stuffing recipe is the absolute best stuffing of all time. I’ve made it every year for…well, more years than I can remember!

Good Deals at Crazyhorse

Crazyhorse is an excellent literary journal, and if you don’t believe me, here are some ways to find out for yourself:

--They’ll send you a free sample copy: If in the US, mail us a 9" x 12" self-addressed stamped envelope with at least $2.23 postage affixed and we'll mail you a past issue for free. Write "Media Mail" on your 9" x 12" envelope and address it to:
Free Issue
Department of English
College of Charleston
66 George Street
Charleston SC 29424

--Too impatient for that approach? Click here to download a PDF sampler of selected Number 73 stories, essays, and poems. See a full table of contents at here to download a PDF sampler of selected Number 74 stories, essays, and poems, out to subscribers and in stores this December 2008.

--If you’re feeling bold, put your work to the test and enter their fiction and poetry contest:

The Crazyhorse Fiction Prize
The Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize
$2000 each and publication in Crazyhorse.

Postmark Deadline to Enter: December 15, 2008
Upload your entry online or mail.

Each year Crazyhorse offers the Crazyhorse Fiction Prize for a single short story and the Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize for a single poem. The competition is open, the prize awards are currently $2000 for each genre.The winning poem and story are published in Crazyhorse. Visit and click on "Fiction and Poetry Prize" for complete details.

High School Poetry Contest

Get busy, kids, and start your writing career early:

High school sophomores and juniors are encouraged to compete for the sixth-annual Patricia Grodd Poetry Prize for Young Writers presented by the Kenyon Review. Entries in the competition may be submitted through the month of November. The Kenyon Review will publish the poetry of the winner and two runners-up. The winner will receive a full scholarship to the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop in Gambier in the summer of 2009. The runners-up will each receive a partial scholarship to the workshop.

Visit for information on the poetry prize and to enter the contest. One unpublished poem may be submitted by each student.

The 2007 contest attracted 1,255 entries from around the world. The contest is judged by David Baker, the Kenyon Review poetry editor. The prize is named in honor of Patricia Grodd, whose support makes the prize possible.

Founded at Kenyon in 1939 by poet and critic John Crowe Ransom, the Kenyon Review is edited by David Lynn, professor of English. The Kenyon Review is an independent literary magazine with a mission to discover and publish exciting new voices alongside the most distinguished authors of our time. Writers appearing in the journal over the years have included Kenyon alumnus E.L. Doctorow '52, T.S. Eliot, Louise Erdrich, F. Scott Fitzgerald (!!), Alice Hoffman, Robert Lowell, Flannery O'Connor, and Thomas Pynchon.

Provincetown Fine Arts Center Application Deadline Looms

Hurry on this one…the deadline is December 1, 2008. I always wished I had applied for this back in the days when I was foot-loose and fancy-free:

For the last forty years, the Fine Arts Work Center has run the largest and longest residency Fellowship in the United States for emerging writers. Writers from any country who have not yet published a book with significant distribution are welcome to apply. Fellows receive a 7-month stay at the Work Center and a monthly stipend of $650. Fellows do not pay or work in exchange for their fellowships in any way. Fellows are chosen based on the strength and promise of their application manuscripts. Former Fellows havewon every major national award in writing and include Denis Johnson, Louise Glück, Jhumpa Lahiri, Yusef Komunyakaa, and 800 others.

No degree is required for a Fellowship, but we have found that students who are about to finish or have recently finished graduate writing programs are often in search of opportunities like the Work Center Fellowship.

The application is straightforward. For details, please visit

The postmark deadline for next year's Fellowships is Monday, December 1, 2008.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why Can't the Next Norman Mailer Be a Woman?

More on the literary gender wars, with this article for The Guardian by author Brian Schofield (link via Bookslut):

“Giant new genres demand to be filled by predominantly female talent – misery memoirs, life-affirming "Richard and Judy" fiction, narcisso-journalism, plus the ever-resilient chick-lit - while the male-dominated opportunities to follow the market – blood-axes and bodices, copying Danny Wallace or being a former member of the SAS/Chelsea Headhunters/Cosa Nostra/all of the above – fill much less of the bookshop. It also feels to me that publishers are more willing to tell (and often kid) themselves that they've just uncovered the next Norman Mailer, a young man primed to burst into the literary top rank with a single almighty debut, than when faced with a fresh female face (upon whose features they will, of course, linger with unseemly interest).”

More here.

Apply for Free Community Workshop

The FREE Jenny McKean Moore Community workshop is one of the great opportunities available in the DC area. Open to all, regardless of past experience, it’s sponsored by George Washington University and is accepting applications NOW:

The George Washington University Jenny McKean Moore Free Community Workshop
Spring 2009—Fiction
Tuesdays, 7 – 9 pm
January 27-April 21, 2009
Led by Mary Morrissy

Come and take part in a semester-long creative writing workshop! To apply, you do not need academic qualifications or publications. Writers who are at beginning or intermediate level will benefit most from this weekly workshop. The class will focus on reading short fiction by established writers, as well as roundtable critique of work submitted by class member. There are no fees to participate in the class, but you will be responsible for making enough copies your story for all fifteen participants. Students at Consortium schools (including George Washington University) are not eligible. The Workshop is open to those who have participated in no more than two Jenny McKean Moore Free Community Workshops.

To apply, please submit a letter of interest, outline your experience with creative writing and your motivations for taking the course. Make sure you include your name, address, home and work telephone numbers, and email address. Enclose a 10-15 page sample of your writing. If you wish to have your sample returned, please include an SASE. Applications must be received at the following address by close of business on December 15, 2008:

Fiction Workshop
Department of English
The George Washington University
801 22nd Street NW, Suite 760
Washington, DC 20052

Mary Morrissy, a well-known Irish writer, is the Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington for 2008-2009. She is the author of three published books—a collection of short stories, A Lazy Eye, and two novels, Mother of Pearl and The Pretender, which have been nominated for major prizes in the United Kingdom. She won the prestigious US Lannan Foundation Award in 1995 for A Lazy Eye and Mother of Pearl. Her short stories have been widely anthologized in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Poetry Critique Group

The Washington Post wrote a piece about a DC poetry critique group open to all. The Federal Poets meets once a month at the West End Public Library. The group has been meeting for more than 40 years! For details, check out the article found here.

Upcoming Reading

Two award winning local poets, Brandel France de Bravo and Sandra Beasley, will share their work as a part of the reading series A Space Inside on Wednesday, November 19 at 7 p.m. at Riverby Books on Capitol Hill.

Brandel France de Bravo's first collection of poems, Provenance, won the 2008 Washington Writers' Publishing House poetry prize. Her poems have appeared in Natural Bridge, Fugue, The Kenyon Review, Black Warrior Review, and The American Voice, as well as in anthologies such as The Beacon Best of 1999: Creative Writing by Men and Women of All Colors, Fathers: A Collection of Poems, Outsiders: Poems About Rebels, Exiles and Renegades, and Hunger and Thirst. A graduate of Warren Wilson's MFA Program for Writers, she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was the recipient of a grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Brandel is also co-author of Trees Make the Best Mobiles: Simple Ways to Raise your Child in a Complex World (St. Martin's Press). She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and daughter and is Director of Public Affairs at the National Research Center for Women and Families.

Sandra Beasley (who wrote for the blog about the Sewanee Writers’ Conference here) won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize for Theories of Falling, selected by Marie Howe. Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, Slate, The Believer, and Blackbird, as well as the Black Warrior Review Chapbook Series and many others. Honors for her work include the 2008 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers, the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize, and fellowships to the Sewanee Writers' Conference and Millay Colony. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she works for The American Scholar and writes for the Washington Post Sunday Magazine.

On Wednesday, December 17, fiction writer David A. Taylor will come to A Space Inside, and our fourth year begins in January with a return to poetry featuring local poet Rosemary Winslow.

Now in its third year, A Space Inside provides a space where developing writers, lesser known voices, and the work better-known writers create between books can be heard. Monthly readings alternate between poetry and prose, but all readers are DC-based writers. All readings, which are free and open to the public, are hosted by Riverby Books with a reception following.

Riverby Books is located at 417 East Capitol Street, SE, just north of Eastern Market and four blocks east of the U.S. Capitol. A seller of used and rare books, they are open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and can be reached at (202) 543-4342. Please call for directions, if needed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Guest in Progress: Carollyne Hutter

I’m sure many of us can relate to the dual life we live as writers. We’re at the grocery store, but we’re thinking about the short story we’ve been working on. We’re chatting to a nice person at a party, but in our head, we’re imagining how we’re going to work the story we’re listening to into our novel. Honestly, sometimes I feel as though there’s no escape…and I truly wonder what “regular people” think about. ??? No idea--sounds like it might be a bit boring.

I met Carollyne Hutter in one of my classes at the Writer’s Center, where she quickly stood out with her imaginative voice and creative approach to the exercises we were working on. I’ve read some of her work along the way, and our paths have crossed at various conferences and events. She’s a wonderful writer, and I’m predicting good things for her recently completed young adult novel:

Teens on My Mind

When a baby is born, a parent usually gently rocks her or him and thinks about the road ahead—the baby’s first words, first steps, first day at kindergarten. With misty eyes, the parent will continue rocking peacefully and then freeze with dread: What to do when the baby becomes a teenager? “How will I survive living with a teenager?” the parent anguishes.

A few years ago, a teenager, Brigit, came to live with me, but she didn’t move into my house, she moved into my mind. I was looking out the window, pondering the difference between the U.S. and Germany, when I heard a teenage voice in my head complaining how difficult it was to move between the two countries. I tried to shake the voice out, like water after swimming, but Brigit’s voice kept bubbling up.

A couple of weeks later, I dropped in at the last minute at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) New York conference. When I went to register, they told me that only a few break-out sessions were available and they put me in teen writing.

Ben Schrank of Razorbill led the teen writing session, talking in a relaxed, conversational tone about writing a young-adult novel (YA). He eased some of my fears of writing a YA, such as how to deal with current teenage jargon (His advice: Don’t bother, by the time the novel comes out, the jargon will be out of date.)

Ben stressed the importance of putting humor in a YA. When he said that I knew I was hooked (I had wanted to use more humor in my writing) and that Brigit and I were going to live together for a while.

So after the conference, I let Brigit unpack and move in with me. I would like to say it all worked fine and it was wonderful having a sarcastic teenager living in my mind, but it wasn’t. Sometimes, I was so annoyed with Brigit—her fixation on clothes and appearance, her obsession with coolness, and her stubbornness were trying. I wrote quickly trying to get her out of my head.

As I wrote, I did come to understand her and feel a real sympathy for her—it’s a big move from Munich, Germany to Madison, Wisconsin. And it is tough being 14, struggling to feel grown-up and yet being dictated by her mother’s world.

When I had a good second draft of Brigit’s story, Homesick, I asked talented fiction writers I know to comment on parts or all of it (Deanna Carlyle, Bonny Becker, Rebecca Flowers, and Leslie). This led to a couple more rounds of revisions.

And then the moment came. I felt the story was ready. I humbly lay the manuscript at the feet of a delightful, but picky 14-year-old girl. I armed her with markers and asked her to comment on what worked and didn’t. Her simple words: “I love it,” when she finished reading the novel were for me the highest praise I could possible ever get.

Now Homesick is done and I am dealing with the publishing process, looking for an agent with whom I mesh. In the meantime, I’ve started on the next book. The other day two voices and two books came into my head. One was Brigit, explaining her story wasn’t done and she needed a sequel.

The other voice was talking about being a teenager and dealing with Washington politics. I wrote up the opening page for this new novel and read it to my mother. There was something strange about this voice. “It’s a boy voice,” my mother said. Oh, no! This is really going to take me into new foreign territories. Can I survive living with a teenage boy in my head? ~~ Carollyne Hutter

About: For over a decade, Carollyne Hutter has been a freelance writer/editor in the Washington, DC area, specializing in international and environmental topics. Her website——will be up soon. Please visit the site to read Carollyne’s stories (including the opening chapters of Homesick), quirky essays, and nonfiction pieces. You can contact her at

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Some Form of Punishment"

My sister has been living in Zimbabwe for the past two years or so, conducting research for her PhD dissertation. Yes—Zimbabwe, with the hyper inflation beyond imagination, the stolen election, the ongoing power struggle, poverty and hunger, and so on. (Apparently, there’s now also a cholera outbreak, which my sister has not mentioned to me….)

Every so often I read a blog that offers various updates on life in Zimbabwe, and though I read the following post several weeks ago, it hasn’t left my mind. There are so many tragic tales out of this country—I can’t even think about the atrocities and suffering leading up to the cancellation of the election last spring—but somehow this story from a pregnant woman really brings everything down to a personal level that is, for me, truly heart-breaking.

Here’s the post:

The life of a pregnant woman in Zimbabwe
Posted on October 31st, 2008 by Fungisai Sithole. 1 comment filed

“Because of the challenges and difficulties I am exposed to on a daily basis I wake up with pains all over my body. My body is mostly swollen and weak. My doctor tells me that my blood pressure levels have gone high. She tells me that I need to rest, but I cannot afford rest, I cannot afford to be sick. Not in this environment where I am subjected to economical, social, political and psychological frustrations. My bulging stomach has become representative of the problems I endure on a daily basis and an antithesis of the joys of womanhood and every growth of my tummy is an increase in my pain, frustrations and agony. I long for joys of motherhood but the environment I live in makes sure I can only long and dream of how it feels to be pregnant in an environment where I can afford the basics – a reality that remains an elusive quest.

“Every day I wake up with worries and serious issues of concern regarding my pregnancy. I am employed but nothing seems to balance and work for me. I have to think of ways of raising money for my next appointment with my gynaecologist and for the hospital delivery charges and the doctor’s delivery fee. All these are charged in US Dollars. I have even attempted to apply to the Reserve Bank for the authority to withdraw cash in excess for the 50 000 daily limit but with no success as the whole financial system is corrupt and dysfunctional. Every day that passes brings an element of fear and anxiety as I still do not know when and how I will be able to raise the monies.

“The doctor and the hospital fees are just one of the few elements I have got to worry about. Most of my clothes can’t fit anymore. I need new big clothes to accommodate my growing body and for my baby. The clothes are very expensive. I move around shops daily hoping to find something affordable but have no luck. I have money in the bank but can only withdraw fifty thousand dollars a day which only covers my one way transport costs to work. The cheapest clothes I can get are around 700 to 800 thousand dollars and I am expected to pay for them in cash. The shops do not accept cheques or transfers. The prices change on a daily basis and have no idea how I am expected to raise such figures a day. In Zimbabwe being pregnant has grown to be some form of punishment whose fine no one seems to know.

“The sad part is dealing with my cravings. The environment in Zimbabwe just wipes away the joys of womanhood. Everything is a frustration for me. I can’t seem to find things I crave for and if I do the price just thwarts the excitement completely. It is an unfathomable task to afford a basic healthy diet something I need seriously in such circumstances. Sometimes my appetite just fades as eating the same vegetables and sadza everyday is a pain to me. I lead a miserable life and cannot wait for the day I will deliver and look at the new challenges.

“With my mind dawdled with the challenges and frustrations of pregnancy, after work I get to a home without electricity and water. I now have to fetch water from a nearby school borehole and make fire as no one knows when the electricity will be back. I now view pregnancy as a burden and the burden is made worse by the miserable living conditions I am expected to endure every day. I dread the day my baby will be born in this environment and I shudder to think if he or she will be able to survive in this mire.”

The blog is called ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists, and if you're interested, you can read more here.

Slate: ISO Writers & Managing Editor for New Magazine

Slate Magazine is going to launch a new online women’s magazine, and it’s looking for writers and a managing editor. You can find details here, and below:

“We believe this is the right moment to launch a women's magazine that doesn't resemble any other in existence. The new site will tap into a crossroads moment in feminism, when the 1970s are firmly behind us but no one knows what's next. (Generational cross-fighting, post-feminist indifference, proof of biological sex differences?) We invite you to help us work out the new dispensation and to have fun doing it. At the moment, we're looking for ideas and writers and also for a managing editor. If you're interested, please send us a note at And if you'd like to sign up to get e-mails about our launch this spring, please send a note to the same address.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Canadian Idol

Margaret Atwood is one of my idols from way back, since when I was assigned to read Surfacing in my first Women's Studies class. I've never seen her read, so it’s thrillingly exciting to see that she’ll be in town. (For goodness sake, give her a Nobel already!) From Politics & Prose bookstore:

We’re happy to announce that Margaret Atwood will be in the store Wednesday, November 19 at 4 p.m. to talk about PAYBACK: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, her new collection of essays that explores the idea of debt as a central and ancient motif in religion, literature, and the structure of human societies.

Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse
5015 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
(202) 364-1919 or (800) 722-0790


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