Monday, March 31, 2008

Another Job

Here’s something to consider if you or your bookish friends might be looking for part-time work:

Permanent part-time positions are available at DC's Politics and Prose bookstore to staff our out-of-store (offsite) author events and book parties. Candidates should be responsible, resourceful, personable, professional, and must have strong communication skills. A valid driver’s license, flexible working hours (must be available days and evenings), and the ability to carry heavy boxes (of books) are all required. If you are interested, please email

Get Your Novel Critiqued

I’m always pleased to announce this great opportunity for those of you who have a full novel manuscript that you would like critiqued:

Peabody's Novel Class for Summer 2008: Critique Your Complete Novel, Not Just a Couple of Chapters:

Limited to 5 students. We meet every two weeks on Thursday nights 7:30 until 10pm at my house in Arlington, Virginia. Four to five blocks from Virginia Square Metro station.

1. June 26
2. July 10
3. July 24
4. August 7
5. August 21
6. September 4
7. September 11

Cost is $500 to be paid before the first night. Due to people dropping the class at the last minute and forcing me to cancel the entire session I now require that $125 of this fee be non-refundable and paid before the class begins. Every participant turns in their complete novel and synopsis the first night along with 5 copies for everybody else and me. That way you get handwritten notes on everything from everybody. And you should feel free to recommend cuts, improvements, make suggestions, mark the manuscripts up at will. That's what this class is all about. By meeting every two weeks each participant should have plenty of time to complete their critiques. If you can't attend every meeting (which I demand save for unforeseeable illness or death in the family as it's a question of fairness and honor) please don't bother signing up.

Why do I teach this class? Because you can go to your favorite bookshop and lift any number of contemporary novels off the shelf and read a few chapters only to discover that they fall apart at chapter four. Why? I've found that most MFA programs only critique the first three chapters of your manuscript. Plus, I've learned from the hands-on experience of teaching this course that a complete reading and critique is absolutely the best way (dare I say only way) to go. What's the advantage of a small class like this one? There's nothing quite like having five people discuss your characters as though they were living people for 2 1/2 hours. What sorts of novels are eligible? Generally I handle serious literary fiction (both realism and experimental works), but the class has included YA , Sci-Fi, Mystery, Horror, Thriller, and Romance novels. If you are interested do please email me a chapter and a synopsis. I'm only considering completed novels in the 250-350 dbl. spaced page range. (That's one-sided, double spaced, 12pt. in Courier font.) Anything longer than that is pretty much wishful thinking right now due to grim market economics and politics. Most first novels are 300 dbl. spaced pages which equals 200pp. in book form. Simply a fact of the biz. Second novels are frequently a different story.

Alumni from Peabody's 22 years of university, Writer's Center, and private classes with filmed screenplays, books in print (or forthcoming) include: Mark Baechtel, Doreen Baingana, Toby Barlow, Maggie Bartley, Jodi Bloom, Sean Brijbasi, Peter Brown, Robert Cullen, Priscilla Cummings, Katharine Davis, Lucinda Ebersole, Sandy Florian, Cara Haycak, Dave Housley, Catherine Kimrey, Rachel King, Adam Kulakow, Nathan Leslie, Redge Mahaffey, Charlotte Manning, James Mathews, Meena Nayak, Matthew Olshan, William Orem, Mary Over ton, Saideh Pakravan, Carolyn Parkhurst, Sally Pfoutz, Nani Power, Carey Roberts, Lisa Schamess, Brenda Seabrooke, Julia Slavin, David Taylor, Lisa M. Tillman, Sharlie West, and Yolanda Young.

My house is 2 blocks from Quincy Park and the Central Library on Quincy Street. For more information, please email

Richard Peabody wears many literary hats. He is editor of Gargoyle Magazine (founded in 1976), has published a novella, two books of short stories, six books of poems, plus an e-book, and edited or co-edited fourteen anthologies including: Mondo Barbie, Mondo Elvis, Mondo Marilyn, Mondo James Dean, Coming to Terms: A Literary Response to Abortion, Conversations with Gore Vidal, A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation, Grace and Gravity: Fiction by Washington Area Women,Alice Redux: New Stories of Alice, Lewis, and Wonderland, Sex & Chocolate: Tasty Morsels for Mind and Body, Enhanced Gravity: More Fiction by Washington Area Women, Kiss the Sky: Fiction and Poetry Starring Jimi Hendrix and Electric Grace: Still More Fiction by Washington Area Women. Stress City: A Big Book of Fiction by Fifty DC Guys is forthcoming in spring 2008. Peabody teaches fiction writing for the Johns Hopkins Advanced Studies Program and the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He lives in Arlington, Virginia. You can find out more at and

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Work in Progress: Collage

I wanted to write just a bit about the collage class I conducted a couple weeks ago at the Writers at the Beach conference in Rehoboth, Delaware. I was intrigued with the idea of collage—melding together disparate elements to create a whole—but unsure as to what the outcome might be.

Here’s the process I used for the class:

The class—and I—started out by writing about foil-wrapped chocolate Easter eggs that I passed out: first, we wrote lists of descriptive phrases. We shared some of those out loud. Then we came up with various associations, also written in a list format, again sharing our favorite selections. (The reading out loud of various associations and lines created its own type of aural collage; it was amazing how people’s minds moved so differently along the same opening parameters of “foil-wrapped chocolate Easter egg.”) Then we took our most intriguing association, and wrote sentences about that, each sentence on a separate line—again, trying to continue with the sense of a list format. I think things were most successful when one viewed the sentences not necessarily as a continuation of the previous sentence but as a response, whether oppositional or complementary or adding additional information. Again, we read out loud.

We continued in this vein with two other structured responses, involving people we knew well and objects from home, and some random, evocative words that I provided. In the end, we had each produced about 15 or so sheets of paper with various lists and sentences (I recommend starting each list on a brand new sheet of paper; copy paper worked well, with no lines and a sense of abundance: we had 500 sheets at our disposal!).

Once we’d accumulated all this raw material, the fun began: we composed a collage of five or so sentences and/or phrases, organized with an eye to pattern, silence, and, again, response. We tried to do a minimal amount of editing on the sentences we had come up with. Of course, the main thing in working with this type of exercise is to feel relaxed and to go with your instincts, not forcing your collage into something, but letting it arise organically (well…as much as possible in the fifteen minutes we had allotted; I do think an interesting experiment would be to see what might be different—or not—if you were to create the collage the next day, approaching the material from a more distant vantage point.).

We read our collages out loud, and honestly, it made my spine tingle to see what people had come up with. There were themes that people had found through all three parts of the exercise, even though the topics were quite different. One woman reported that she had remembered things she hadn’t known she remembered about her grandmother. A man read a collage that was about grief and loss that almost made us cry. Everyone’s work felt like a magical, secret scrapbook of something intimate.

I was happy that I had actively participated instead of merely facilitating as I typically do during a writing exercise class. And though it’s easier to have the combined elements of surprise and structure as offered by someone else (after all, I knew we’d be writing about chocolate eggs in advance, and they didn’t), I still think this exercise could be done at home, alone. And people who may not think of themselves as natural writers* could benefit as well—this is a non-threatening approach to composition.

I suggest writing up a list of evocative words and writing one each on an index card (oh, again and again, the beauty of index cards!). When you sit down to try to compose a collage, select one card at random—start with a descriptive list, the list of associations, and finally, the sentences. Then try 2-3 more words, and then develop your collage. We took about 2 hours or so total, but we also spent some of that time reading out loud.

I found the exercise freed my mind and yet also pushed me into seeing new connections, both in my life and in the written word. Because the process was so different than the way I approach a story (“what happens next?”), I think I relearned that there is equal power in associations and in the silences between linked sentences. I can imagine approaching a troublesome scene differently after going through this exercise…in fact, it might be interesting to try this collage technique with a fictional character in mind (we were working from our own lives and experiences). I’m sure I haven’t quite figured out everything that I learned, just that this class was unexpectedly transformative for me. And that, more than anything, is what I enjoy about teaching: the countless times when I get as much from the experience as the class does.

*Note: Special thanks to husband Steve, the guinea pig as I tried out the chocolate Easter egg portion of the exercise at home…it’s nice to be able to bribe someone with a few pieces of candy! And he wrote up with some great stuff, too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NPR's Sound Pictures

I love this regular feature on NPR every time I happen to catch it. They play sound clips of various famous people and actors, and listeners write in to describe--creatively--what these voices sound like. Yesterday, I heard the responses for Henry Kissinger, Christopher Walken, Andy Devine, and Jeanette MacDonald.

This is a selection of how people described Henry Kissinger’s voice:

The old guy in the row behind you on an airplane dictating a letter for the entire flight [to hear] — Marty Combs

The love child of Marlene Dietrich and Elmer Fudd — Curtiss Clark

Pudding skin — John Peck

His tongue is the wrong size for his head — Lucie Shores

How the ticking might sound in Salvador Dali's paintings of melting clocks — Scott Olson

An old Chevy with a bad muffler idling inside an abandoned cave — Beth Bailey

Herman Munster after having bitten his own tongue — Patrick Gerrity

And here are some descriptions of actor Christopher Walken:

The car salesman who just quit smoking three days ago and has poison ivy on his arms — Charles Rajani

The nervous, shifting eyes of your neighbor's crazy dog — Marty Conboy

The cat that saunters by ignoring you, then suddenly turns around and smiles — Olivia Elisabeth Collins

The guy you change your mind about getting on the elevator with — John Harrison

Stoli served over cracked ice — Ginny McCaskey

The troubling dream you had and can't quite remember — Rhonda Broom

The cool uncle who snuck you a beer at the family barbecue when you were 13 — John Medici

There are others, found here. And you can participate in the next session; simply go here and listen to the voices up for next time: political activist Jesse Jackson, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, Jefferson Airplane lead singer Grace Slick, and Paula Winslowe, better known as the voice of Bambi's mother.

Poets: Spend Time in the City of Big Shoulders

Here’s another residency that I’m dying to be selected for and I’m not even remotely eligible. Tell your poet friends:

The Poetry Center of Chicago Summer Residency

The Poetry Center of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago are pleased to announce that they will award a poetry residency in the heart of Chicago's vibrant downtown. One poet will be awarded a month-long poetry residency with housing. This residency is open to poets who have published no more than one book of poetry, not including self-published work.

In addition to housing, the Poet will receive a $1,000 stipend. The Poet is responsible for his/her own travel and meal expenses.

Accommodations will be provided at The School of the Art Institute's residency tower, located in the Loop at 162 North State Street, which is walking distance from Lake Michigan, museums, including the Art Institute where the poet will receive free admission, and other attractions. The spacious studio apartments feature kitchens and private baths.

Submission deadline Friday, May 09, 2008. Applications and supporting materials must be received in office by 6 pm on Friday, May 09, 2008.

Download application here.

Learn More about Copywriting

This is tomorrow night, so not much notice, but it sounds like a great program if you’re in the Richmond area:

The Writing Show: Don't just say it, sell it

Do you watch the Super Bowl just for the ads? Do you have a knack for snappy phrasing? Can you distill ideas, information, and the conflicting input of a dozen people into a single lively paragraph? Could copywriting be for you?

Copywriting is much more than creative headlines; discover what the experts have to say about the art, the craft, and the business of writing for advertising at this month's Writing Show.

Can you hear me now? The art and the business of copywriting.

Featuring panelists:
--Hugh Gouldthorpe, Jr., Owens & Minor
--Joe Alexander, The Martin Agency
--Caroline Kettlewell, freelancer
--Kathleen Toler, freelancer
--And your host, Carol Roper

Thursday, March 27, 2008
The Eureka Theater
Science Museum of Virginia
6 PM JRW Member Reception
6:30 PM Writing Show Begins
$10 / $5 students with valid school ID

Register online at

The Writing Show is brought to you by James River Writers and the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"It Is a Wooden Leg First"

According to The Writer’s Almanac, today is Flannery O’Connor’s birthday.

I like the O’Connor quotation they offer: "The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention." I am always telling students to eavesdrop and pay attention to people around them, even when they’re doing something mundane like waiting in a pharmacy line.

But here’s the (long) bit of Flannery O’Connor’s wisdom that I love the most, from "Writing Short Stories" (collected in Mystery and Manners), that explains how things came about in her masterpiece of a story, “Good Country People”:

In good fiction, certain of the details will tend to accumulate meaning from the action of the story itself, and when this happens they become symbolic in the way they work. I once wrote a story called "Good Country People," in which a lady Ph.D. has her wooden leg stolen by a Bible salesman whom she has tried to seduce. Now I’ll admit that, paraphrased in this way, the situation is simply a low joke. The average reader is pleased to observe anybody’s wooden leg being stolen.

But without ceasing to appeal to him, and without making any statements of high intention, this story does manage to operate at another level of experience, by letting the wooden leg accumulate meaning. Early in the story, we’re presented with the fact that the Ph.D. is spiritually as well as physically crippled. She believes in nothing but her own belief in nothing, and we perceive that there is a wooden part of her soul that corresponds to her wooden leg. Now of course this is never stated. The fiction writer states as little as possible. The reader makes this connection from the things he is shown. He may not even know that he makes the connection, but the connection is there nevertheless and it has its effect on him. As the story goes on, the wooden leg continues to accumulate meaning. The reader learns how the girl feels about her leg, how her mother feels about it, and how the country woman on the place feels about it; and finally, by the time the Bible salesman steals it, the reader realizes that he has taken away part of the girl’s personality and has revealed her deeper affliction to her for the first time.

If you want to say that the wooden leg is a symbol, you can say that. But it is a wooden leg first, and as a wooden leg it is absolutely necessary to the story. It has its place on the literal level of the story, but it operates in depth as well as on the surface. It increases the story in every direction, and this is esentially the way a story escapes being short.

Now a little might be said about the way in which this happens. I wouldn’t want you to think that in that story I sat down and said, "I am now going to write a story about a Ph.D. with a wooden leg, using the wooden leg as a symbol for another kind of affliction." I doubt myself if many writers know what they are going to do when they start out. When I started writing that story, I didn’t know there was going to be a Ph.D. with a wooden leg in it. I merely found myself one morning writing a description of two women that I knew something about, and before I realized it, I had equipped one of them with a daughter with a wooden leg. As the story progressed, I brought in the Bible salesman, but I had no idea what I was going to do with him. I didn’t know he was going to steal that wooden leg until ten or twelve lines before he did it, but when I found out that this was what was going to happen, I realized that it was inevitable. This is a story that produces a shock for the reader, and I think one reason for this is that it produced a shock for the writer.

Now despite the fact that this story came about in this seemingly mindless fashion, it is a story that almost no rewriting was done on. It is a story that was under control throughout the writing of it, and it might be asked how this kind of control comes about, since it is not entirely conscious.

I think the answer to this is what Maritain calls "the habit of art." It is a fact that fiction writing is something in which the whole personality takes part — the conscious as well as the unconscious mind. Art is the habit of the artist; and habits have to be rooted deep in the personality. They have to be cultivated like any other habit, over a long period of time, by experience.

Tobias Wolff and the Act of Lying

Slate magazine has an interesting review and commentary about Tobias Wolff’s recently released collection of new and selected older stories, Our Story Begins. You can find the whole article here, and for now, here’s a tantalizing excerpt:

"To read a collection of Wolff's work that spans the years is to realize that he is obsessed with the act of lying. Asked in an interview why so many of his characters lie, Wolff replied, "The world is not enough, maybe? … To lie is to say the thing that is not, so there's obviously an unhappiness with what is, a discontent." A recent outbreak of faked memoirs has set off a storm of outraged pontification about why people pass off false histories as their own, so it's satisfying to read about liars who lie for interesting reasons rather than the usual despicable ones. Wolff is, in fact, a genius at locating the truths revealed by lies—the ancient and holy tongues, you might say, the otherwise inexpressible inner realities that lies give voice to."

On the Road

I guess I’ve got itchy feet since lately I seem to be attracted to announcements of residencies:

Kerouac Project of Orlando

The writers will live rent- and utility-free in Kerouac’s historic Florida home. In addition, he/she will be awarded a gift card for Publix Supermarkets.

We are now accepting applications for the September-November 2008, December-February 2008, March-May 2009, and June-August 2009 residencies. The application period will be from January 2008 through April 2008. We will read the applications in May and announce the winners in June.

To apply, please submit TWO COPIES of the following:

--A typed, double-spaced resume.

--A one page statement of intent.

--A 10 page manuscript (any genre is acceptable). Our preference is for a manuscript already in progress. We are NOT looking for Kerouac imitators.

--Indicate the time slot for which you are applying.

--Please include a (SASE) self addressed stamped envelope for notification purposes.

Due to size limitations, the successful candidates and one spouse/partner maximum can be accommodated. There is no set criteria for age, race or sex.

In addition, the writer will undertake a limited amount of interaction with the community. There is the possibility of a paid co-teaching opportunity with Valencia Community College during the residency. Upon completion of the three-month period, the writer will give a reading at the Kerouac House. Some of the writer’s material may also be used in future publications or e-zines of Kerouac House writings.

or more information on Kerouac’s time in this home, may we suggest you consult Jack Kerouac Selected Letters, 1957-1969.

Send submissions to:
Kerouac Writers Selection Committee
PO Box 547477
Orlando, Florida 32854

Entries are non-returnable. Please watch for an announcment of the winners in June 2008. For more information, please go here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bret Easton Ellis: Major Writer or Footnote?

As I’ve confessed in the past, I have a secret fascination with the novel Less Than Zero, by Bret Easton Ellis. Here's an interesting interview with the writer that tries to give context to his style and subject matter (from the Los Angeles Times

“Part of what makes his work interesting -- but at times morally disorienting -- is his unwillingness to intrude on his narrative with an authorial voice. It also led to him being seen as a nihilist, which hurt more than it probably should have. ‘I hate anybody who reviews based on morality and not aesthetics,’ Ellis said over dinner. ‘That is a major crime.’

"'There's an almost passive-aggressive quality to it,’ Scott said of Ellis' style. ‘Like 'I'm not going to tell you'; it keeps the reader off-balance. You have to decide how much irony there is.’

"Ellis has called himself a moralist but pointed out to [Charlie] Rose that he's not going to walk into his novels and say, ‘OK, guys, reader: These people are shallow, immoral and aimless -- just wanted you to know that.’”

Note that Ellis will be coming out with a sequel to Less Than Zero. I assumed all those characters would for sure have been dead by their forties!

(Link via The Elegant Variation.)

Nice Work, If You Can Get It

Here are two jobs of interest to writers, and thanks to the glorious internet, you don’t have to be local:

Deborah Ager, blogger and editor of the wonderful 32 Poems magazine, is looking for “a web-savvy poet interested in working on our magazine. Preferably, you are a subscriber, you have read many issues of the magazine and have magazine experience.” Goals for the position include organizing readings and increasing library subscriptions.

To that end, “If you want to organize readings, you should live in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or DC. You can live in another area if there’s a vibrant poetry scene there. We’re looking for more than one person for this role. If you want to increase library subs, you’ll need a computer, internet access and follow-up skills. You can live anywhere as long as you can send emails.” (Please note that this is an unpaid position.)

For more information about how to apply, please go here.


Slate, one of my favorite on-line publications, is looking for a free-lance writer for its popular “Explainer” column, which offers “answers to your questions about the news.” From the job posting:

“You'd have to be confident covering a wide range of subject matter, including science, religion, and politics; we'd also need you to provide excellent copy on tight deadlines.”

The deadline for application is March 31; for details about how to apply, please go here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Work in Progress: Happy Anniversary!

A year ago tomorrow, Work in Progress opened its blog door. Seems like a long time ago…seems like yesterday. My sincere thanks to Denise, who came up with the blog name (my titling woes are well-documented); to C.M. Mayo who is a good friend and an inspiring blogger role model, who encouraged me to go for it; and to you, all of you who take time out of your busy days to read these words.

The blog is, as always, a work in progress, and I appreciate and welcome your comments and suggestions.

Here’s a short list of my favorite posts that I’ve written. Later, I’ll offer a list of especially memorable guest posts:

1. This reverie about an afternoon spent at the library.

2. The challenge of recognizing when it’s time to put your manuscript in a drawer and move on.

3. Another challenge: how to manage the dreaded flashback in your work.

4. No list of mine would be complete without a mention of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

5. Inspiration from outside the usual realm, The Gettysburg Address.

6. Discovering who your characters are.

7. And just for fun, to demonstrate my compulsive nature and inability to let go of something, why the last episode of The Sopranos was brilliant!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Inside the Editor's Mind, Part 3

One Story is one of my favorite literary journals; I love the idea of getting, well, one story in the mail every three weeks or so. Here's an interview with one of the founders of the journal, Maribeth Batcha (from Bookslut).

And if you’d like to submit your work, here’s what they’re looking for:

“We get about 150 submissions a week and publish 18 a year. Genre isn't an issue. We like everything, be it straightforward or experimental, or about mothers or zombies. Because of our format, the story has to feel complete and really stand on its own. We do quite a bit of editorial work on each story, so they don't have to be perfect to be selected, but we have to have a good idea of what the story will look like when it's done, and feel like the writer can work with us to take it there. Of course, the writing has to be really solid, but the story itself has to have some meat to it.”

I did the math…that’s about 7800 manuscripts a year, which is (I think; I was sick when we learned percentages in grade school and never really got how to calculate them) a .23 percent chance of getting accepted. The good news is that I suppose that’s a better acceptance rate than The New Yorker!

Go Green in Your Writing

Here’s an unusual call for submissions. But imagine your work being read by millions of disgruntled airline passengers!

We invite you to write your own Green short story of up to 2,000 words in length. It may employ any tone, from funny to apocalyptic, but must deliberately have some aspect of Green as a prevailing presence, or even its theme. By “Green” we mean the concern for our environment that is motivating people worldwide to take action to reverse its degradation. To waste less, for example—and to care more.

Official entry form can be found here.


Please be sure to read the “Skylight” note from the magazine’s editorial director for details about the specific nature of this competition. Entries must be not more than 2,000 words in length, must be original works by the author and must be submitted in English via by 11:59 p.m. EST, April 15, 2008. Limit one entry per e-mail address. Entrants must be 18 years of age or older. Employees of Pace Communications, Inc., Pace Interactive and Delta Air Lines, and members of their immediate families are not eligible. One winner will be selected by a panel of judges that will include but not be limited to the professional editors of Sky. The decision of the judges is final. Federal, state and local laws apply. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.*

Sponsor assumes no responsibility for entries that it is unable to process due to computer, network, hardware or other technical problems or failures, or for any other reason, or if entries are incomplete, damaged, illegible, misdirected or lost. Entries containing inappropriate content will automatically be ruled ineligible. Sponsor further reserves the right to cancel, terminate or modify the promotion if it deems, in its sole discretion, that it is not capable of completion, including infection by computer virus, technical problems or force majeure. Entrants must have Internet access by April 15, 2008, to be eligible.

A prize of $500 will be rewarded. All taxes are the responsibility of the winner. The winner will be notified by either e-mail or telephone. If winner does not respond within 10 business days of notification, the prize will be forfeited and an alternate winner will be selected. The winning entry and the winner’s name and city and state/country of residence will be published in the July 2008 issue of Sky and on Winner also gives consent to the contest sponsor to publish his or her name and city and state/country of residence in e-mails, press releases and other forms of communication (print and electronic). Winner grants Pace Communications full and exclusive worldwide rights to the winning entry, in all forms (print and electronic), for 120 days after publication. Winner will be required to warrant that the entry does not in whole or in part infringe any copyrights or violate any personal or property rights or contain any scandalous or libelous matter.

The sponsor of this contest is Pace Communications in Greensboro, North Carolina.

*Note: What does that mean, anyway? How are we supposed to know who these mysterious prohibitions affect? Of all the daily legalese one comes across, this one always makes me laugh.

"Electric Grace": Meet the Authors

Here’s an upcoming event of note:

What: Come meet the authors and join a discussion of the challenges women writers face in the Washington area, balancing family and financial commitments and writing against the grain of Washington's "Politics and History" image. "ELECTRIC GRACE ­ Still More Fiction by Washington Area Women" is an anthology of 42 short stories from a spectrum of new and established writers, edited by longtime Washington area writing instructor, poet, Gargoyle Magazine editor and small press publisher Richard Peabody.

Who: co-sponsored by Paycock Press and the Washington Chapter of WNBA (Women's National Book Association), a nonprofit professional organization for women and men in publishing and allied fields, now celebrating its 90th Anniversary, whose Washington DC Chapter was founded in 1978.

Why: For Women's History Month, honor local women writers in the "here and now."

Authors: Jody Lannen Brady, Laura Brylawski-Miller, Mary Katya Doroshenk, Corrine Zappia Gormont, Catherine Harnett, Sheryl Stein, Julia Thomas, NC Weil, and Mary-Sherman Willis

When: Tuesday, March 25, 2008, 7-10pm

Arlington Arts Center's Tiffany Gallery
3550 Wilson Blvd, Arlington VA 22201
(703) 248-6800
by Metro: ­ Orange Line to Virginia Square/GMU
Exit the Metro and walk 1 block straight to Wilson Blvd. The Arlington Arts
Center is located at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North Monroe Street.
(About 3 blocks past Silver Diner, Murky Coffee, cross Washington Blvd.,
past Carvel Ice Cream, 7-Eleven, and one more block on the left.)

For driving directions, use this link:

RSVP to by Sat March 22 so we will order enough

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wish You Were There!

Writers at the Beach, which I taught at over the weekend, is one of my favorite events each year, because there’s such a nice, supportive vibe throughout the conference. The writers are donating their time to help raise money for mitochondrial disease research (a terrible genetic disease that organizer Maribeth Fischer's two young nephews died of), and the participants are all eager to learn.

I heard many excellent readings—be sure to watch for Sheri Reynolds' new book that she read from…still no title, though it’s coming out this fall; I can relate to title woes!; and Erin Murphy’s poetry is a always a delight; Marian Fontana can make a ballroom full of people simultaneously laugh and cry—and I came away inspired by the INCREDIBLE work the members of my collage class created in only two hours (I’ll write more about that at a later point; I’m a passionate new fan of collage writing now!). I also enjoyed meeting the members of my “First Pages” class; we had a great conversation about how to send your story/essay/novel off to a good start. I could have listened to keynote speaker Jacquelyn Michard for an hour more as she shared writing tips and hilarious stories about her damaged knee!

I was on the Marketing Boot Camp panel and was interested—as always—to learn from the experts about personal branding and the importance of not under-valuing ourselves and our work. I will be redoing my web site in the next few months, and I picked up some good tips on the importance of keeping one’s web presence up to date. (For more specifics on that, here's a recent posting from Buzz, Balls & Hype about what a writer’s web site should include.)

Plus…I was at Rehoboth Beach and the weather was perfect for walking along the ocean and for sitting outside on the boardwalk eating Thrasher’s Fries—which I ate an hour before dinner—which I then followed with several (okay, many) handfuls of Dolle’s caramel corn. Unfortunately, dinner that night at Fins was also delicious, and I still regret having to leave behind some of the grits and macaroni and cheese due to feeling TOTALLY STUFFED. On the drive home, I stopped at the outlet mall, spent too much money, and ordered a Grotto pizza to take home to Steve…65 percent of which actually did make it back to Virginia. The other memorable meal of the weekend was delicious duck confit at Espuma, and I truly think it was this recent post that had put duck confit in my mind, since it’s not exactly beach food.

Now—it’s spring break at Johns Hopkins, so since I won’t have to worry this week about reading manuscripts and planning something to talk about in class, I am back to focusing on my poor neglected novel-in-progress. It’s nice to approach my own work while feeling the lingering effects of a weekend spent immersed with writers talking about writing…which for me, is ultimately the best part about attending any conference.

Monday, March 17, 2008

How Writers Work

Okay, I’m back on Monday when I said I’d be back on Tuesday. Call me a liar…and speaking of being a liar, here's a great essay by children’s book author Lois Lowry about how the best writers are liars, or is it that the best liars are writers?

And check out this great piece by one of Steve’s favorite writers, Richard Russo, about how he might approach writing a novel about Eliot Spitzer’s fall. It’s a fascinating look into the process of how a writer goes about creating a compelling character.

More about the fabulous beach conference tomorrow…and that’s no lie!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Guest in Progress: Moira Rose Donohue

This weekend, I will be off at Writers at the Beach: Seaglass 2008, teaching and having fun, and will be back to blogging on Tuesday.

While I’m away, I hope you’ll enjoy this fun essay from Moira Rose Donohue, children’s book author, who is devoted to fighting the good fight with regard to upholding the standards of punctuation.

Here’s the charming premise of her new book, PENNY AND THE PUNCTUATION BEE:

Elsie, an exclamation point, announces loudly that she’s sure she’ll win the school Punctuation Bee. After all, an exclamation point has won the last three years. But Penny, a period, and her friend, Quentin, a question mark, decide to practice and practice. More than anything, Penny wants to beat Elsie, who brags way too much!

The bee begins and one by one, the punctuation marks drop out. Finally, as the loudspeaker announces the end of the school day, only Quentin, Penny, and Elsie remain. It looks like a three-way tie. Then Quentin asks an important question that saves the day—for Penny!


When I told a friend recently that my second book, a humorous tale of animate punctuation marks, was coming out soon, he guffawed. "Well, we all have our delusions. But really, no one cares about punctuation any more." Naturally, my first reaction was that punched-in-the-gut feeling. My next reaction was to take him off my friend list! But of course I couldn't ignore his words. Was I writing about a totally lost skill?

I recognize that I am a word and language geek, and I love grammar and punctuation. I was the only person in my college to ever take Grammar 101 as an elective. Not only that, one of my most favorite assignments as a young government lawyer was researching whether Congress had repealed what was believed to be a long-standing banking law by virtue of a missing quotation mark (that case, by the way, ultimately ended up in the Supreme Court).* So, as you would expect, I can't give up easily on punctuation.

I also recognize that the rigorous grammar I was taught in school, complete with sentence diagramming, is not being taught in elementary schools. In fact, it's not being taught in high school or college either, so that those who are recent graduates of college and entering the teaching profession these days have been schooled in only the basics—parts of speech. The lack of education in the more complex rules of grammar does, in fact, diminish the ability to punctuate and to teach punctuation. After all, if you don't know what a dependent versus an independent clause is, you can't very well absorb the rules of punctuation that apply to separate them! Not only that, but the fact that so much communication takes place in the form of email, instant messaging and texting has made spelling, un42natly, somewhat irrelevant. So was my former friend right?

Then it hit me. Despite the move away from teaching grammar, despite the abbreviated language of texts and emails, kids and adults both still routinely use basic punctuation, and, in particular, the final punctuation marks—periods, question marks and exclamation points. Why? Precisely because of the abbreviated nature of modern communication. Phrases can be subject to many interpretations. For example: "My house @ 5" could mean, "Do you want to come to my house at 5?" or "I'll see you at my house at 5." or "Be at my house at 5 or else!" And the only way to know which meaning applies is to punctuate the phrase, to give it an emotional context. And that's when I realized that punctuation's not dead: it's more important than ever!

So what does that mean for teaching punctuation? Well, tying punctuation to the rules of grammar is impossible. Usage examples like those above can be helpful for older kids. But for those in elementary school learning the rudiments? I suggest my approach—animate punctuation marks with distinct personalities that match their function. Once you've met a question mark who is a newspaper reporter, or a cheerleading exclamation point, will you ever have trouble remembering how to use these marks? I don't think so. In fact, I'm sure of it! ~~ Moira Rose Donohue

About Moira Rose Donohue: I love tap dancing, old movies, opera and, OK, I'm a grammar and punctuation geek. In ALFIE THE APOSTROPHE, I first revealed the secret personalities of punctuation marks that only true lovers of punctuation like me know about. For example, did you know that question marks love riddles and jokes? And exclamation points? Cheerleaders! Perhaps you've already noticed that quotation marks are often filled with hot air.

One of the events that inspired my interest in punctuation happened when I was a young lawyer and had to research a question about a missing quotation mark in a very old banking law. Without the quotation mark, it looked like the law, which people thought had been around for almost 100 years, really didn't exist at all. The question ultimately had to be decided by the United States Supreme Court!*

I grew up in Bayside, Queens (NYC) and was educated at Mississippi University for Women ('75) (yes, NY to Mississippi was a culture shock!) and the University of Santa Clara School of Law ('78). Today I live in northern Virginia with my husband, Rob, also a lawyer; my son, Peter, an architecture student in NJ; my daughter, Rose, a high school senior and a percussionist; and my two dogs, Sniffles the pug and Quincy the Cavapoo.

Albert Whitman & Co took the plunge and published the quirky ALFIE in 2006. They are doing it again—PENNY AND THE PUNCTUATION BEE is now available! I've also published two children's plays, THE THREE BEARS VERSUS GOLDI LOCKS, available from Contemporary Drama Service, and AN ALPHABET STORY in Plays Magazine (November, 2002); several articles and stories; and a children's poem.

For more information, please visit Moira’s web site.

*Note: I asked about the outcome of this case, and this is what Moira emailed me: “Well, I guess I left out the decision because I really didn't like it. The Court decided that Congress had made a mistake and chose to repunctuate the 1918 statute so the law remained on the books.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Getting Outside Your Comfort Zone

I was reading the new issue of the Writer’s Center's newsletter, Carousel, and found two great ideas for writers of any genre that I feel compelled to pass along:

1. This is from an interview with poet Rose Solari, and she’s asked for some writing advice. Among her suggestions is this:

“Read deeply and widely. Most of all, read outside of your comfort zone. Seek out work that frustrates and baffles you, as well as work you’re already pre-disposed to like. Do a taste-swap: ask a writer friend whose work is different from yours to recommend two books you ought to read, and do the same for her. There are all kinds of ways to keep your mind open.”

2. I found this idea thanks to a review of the book As You Were Saying: American Writers Respond to Their French Contemporaries (Dalkey Archive Press). Here’s how reviewer Jason DeYoung describes the book:

“The concept behind the recent book As You Were Saying is to have an author—in this case, French—compose a short story, generally of three to four pages in length, and send it to an American author who writes a short story responding to, riffing on, or collaborating with, the French author’s piece.”

Well, I say that sounds like a fascinating exercise, and the French element is interesting (perhaps it would be important to conduct this exercise over duck confit?), but two Americans would be fine, too. You and your writing buddy each write up a short piece (fiction, personal essay, poems—pick your favorite genre!). Then swap, and respond in some way to the piece.

Or, if you’re feeling anti-social, pick something that’s already published. I once wrote a response to Richard Ford’s wonderful short story “Reunion,” which was itself a riff on John Cheever’s masterpiece of a short-short, also called “Reunion.” Yes, mine was called “Reunion,” too…all part of the fun of the riff. The two slightly more famous “Reunions” can be found here.

As Jason notes at the end of the review, “To respond to someone else’s piece takes close reading. Even if you would not normally write about a man having a face transplant [one of the stories in the book], the exercise of attempting it might be enlightening; responding to a colleague’s story with your own story could give you space to play with foreign concepts and help you make new discoveries in your own writing.”

In the end, it’s about pushing yourself beyond your boundaries…isn’t that what art is all about?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Isn't It Pretty to Think So?

The American Book Review has come up with a list of the 100 best last lines of novels. (You can find the pdf file link here via The Utne Reader). The Great Gatsby is number three…which seems two places too low to me, but oh well. And probably my second favorite last line is from Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises: “'Yes,' I said. ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’” (Number 6 on the list.) The weight of the whole book in those few perfect and precise words. That was one book that I read in college as an assignment, bored for most of it. But once I’d lived a little, I reread and thought it was brilliant.

Number 4, the end of Ulysses by James Joyce is pretty darn awesome too:

"...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. "

(Thanks to The Elegant Variation for the link.)

Check Out Spring Classes at the Writer's Center

There is no better bargain than the classes at the Writer’s Center. Dedicated teachers (like me!); a wide array of interesting, reasonably priced classes; an option of internet classes…you can’t go wrong. The new classes for spring are listed here; be sure to move quickly. Plenty of classes sell out; go here for more information.

I’ll be offering one of my favorite one-day classes, designed for beginning writers:

Finding Your Voice: Creating Memorable Fiction and Memoir
A One-Day Workshop

Have you always wanted to write but couldn’t quite find the courage to pick up a pencil? Or perhaps you’re a secret writer, scribbling stories in private notebooks, compulsively filling the pages of your journal? This supportive, hands-on workshop will give you courage to write and direction about how to proceed. Through discussion and writing exercises, participants will learn some basic techniques of fiction/memoir writing. The goal is to leave with several promising pieces to finish at home. Bring a pen and lots of paper! One hour lunch break.

Saturday, May 10, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM in Bethesda

Registration and details here.

Residency Opportunity

This sounds like a great opportunity:

The Marguerite and Lamar Smith Fellowship for Writers
Named in honor of Carson McCullers' parents, The Marguerite and Lamar Smith Fellowship for Writers was inspired by McCullers’ experience at the Breadloaf Writer's Conference in Vermont and, especially, the Yaddo Arts Colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. To honor the contribution of these writers’ residences to McCullers’ work, the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians awards fellowships for writers to spend time in McCullers' childhood home in Columbus, Georgia. The fellowships are intended to afford the writers in residence uninterrupted time to dedicate to their work, free from the distractions of daily life and other professional responsibilities.

The Marguerite and Lamar Fellowship for Writers will be offered for the fall semester of 2007, the fellowship to begin the first of September and to end the first of December. During this period of time, the Smith/McCullers Fellow will reside in a spacious private apartment in Carson McCullers' childhood home, the Smith-McCullers House. The Fellow will be provided with a stipend of $5000 to cover costs of transportation, food and other incidentals. Fellowship recipients will be required to introduce or advance their work through reading or workshop/forum presentations. The Fellow will work with the McCullers Center Director to plan a presentation near the end of the residency.

The Smith-McCullers House is located on a quiet residential street in a historic neighborhood in Columbus, Georgia. The Fellow will reside in a spacious private apartment occupying one-half of the Smith-McCullers House. The remainder of the house serves as the Smith-McCullers house Museum and as the offices for the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians. The apartment is comprised of a large living/writing/sleeping room, a private bathroom, and a private entrance, allowing Fellows to work without interruption or disturbance by the Center and Museum. The kitchen is shared by the Fellow and the Center, but the Center uses the kitchen only for occasional special events. The apartment is adequately furnished; Fellows need bring only their personal belongings. The Carson McCullers Center provides utilities (except for long distance telephone service), general property maintenance, a computer and online service. Fellows are welcome, of course, to bring their own computers if they prefer. Since public transportation in the Columbus area leaves something to be desired, an automobile would prove very useful; however, there are grocery stores, post offices, and other services within walking distance, so an automobile is not an absolute necessity. A spouse or companion is welcome, but children and pets will not be allowed.

April 1, 2008. All entries must be mailed and postmarked on or before April 1, 2008. Electronic submissions will not be accepted.

Print out, complete, and mail three copies of the application form and writing sample as described on the application form, which is found here. Also, we require two references. Print out this recommendation form, send to two people of your choosing, and have them mail the completed forms directly to the McCullers Center.

Except in the case of published works, application materials will not be returned.There is no application fee. All applicants will receive notification of our receipt of application.

Mail the entire packet to: The Carson McCullers Fellowship Program, Department of Language and Literature, Columbus State University, 4225 University Avenue, Columbus, GA, 31907

Direct questions to: Cathy Fussell, Director, The Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, 706 568-2054

Announcement of Winner: Early May. All applicants will receive letters announcing the winner.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Inside the Mind of the Editor, Part II

I’ve slowly been working my way through some of the literary journals that I picked up last month at the AWP Conference. In the Fall 2007 issue of Short Story (a snappy journal edited by Caroline Lord), I found an interview Lord conducted with Atlantic Monthly Fiction Editor C. Michael Curtis, and I thought this excerpt of what he looks for as he evaluates submissions for the annual fiction issue was interesting:

Lord: I send my stuff out and get rejected all the time. Maybe you could give me a few pointers.

Curtis: (chuckles) I doubt you need this sort of advice. [In my class about writing] I talk about mechanical problems, bad grammar, bad spelling and punctuation. I make the point that most editors spot such mistakes very quickly, and, in my experience, when you find stories that are damaged in that way, they tend to be damaged in a great many other ways.

Lord: What other advice can you give?

Curtis: I talk about second person and present tense and other mannerisms that are often a signal of a kind of pretense. What Raymond Carver called “tricks.” I’m very sympathetic to his objection to any kind of tricks. I point out that dialogue is one of the things an editor can spot very quickly. Bad dialogue is fairly easy to recognize: it’s mechanical, and unlike the way people talk, or not very distinguished or distinctive. If you see a story with bad dialogue, you can be fairly safe in assuming the rest of the story isn’t going to be a whole lot better, and since most stories include dialogue for a number of persuasive reasons, a story that has no dialogue at all is also likely to be far too egocentric, too involved with the writer, and very likely to represent something the writer is very eager to say rather than a story about believable people struggling with plausible problems.

Note: I once heard Curtis speak at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference where he told us that he often read fiction manuscripts while watching football games. I stopped submitting during football season! We’re safe now (though maybe he’s a March Madness maniac?), so if you’re feeling lucky, here are the submission guidelines for The Atlantic Monthly.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Guest in Progress: Richard Goodman

One thing I like about the writing world is how small it is: if I meet a writer, it rarely takes long to figure out who we might know in common and where we both might have been (“I was at VCCA* too! Which studio did you work in? Oh, I was in there during my first stay; didn’t you love watching the cows out the window?”). For allegedly anti-social people, most writers I know love to connect.

And now we can connect through the internet, too. Richard Goodman is one such virtual connection. I read his piece about his favorite collections of letters on my friend C.M. Mayo’s blog, Madam Mayo, and was so taken that I asked if I could run it on this blog (here). They were kind enough to allow me to do so.

Then Richard and I struck up a correspondence (through email, sadly, not real letters!) and I asked him if he might share with us some thoughts about his new book about creative writing, as I’m a total writing book groupie. In this process, yes, we discovered that we have both had residencies at VCCA and that, yes, we have even another mutual acquaintance beyond C.M. Mayo.

To make sure to really drill in how small this world is, I discovered that my husband has a copy—in hardcover!— of Richard’s memoir, French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France, on our bookshelf! Steve is still away on his fatigue-inspiring business trip, but when he gets back, I’ll ask him about Richard’s book. I’m pretty confident that it will be highly positive assessment: possession-wise, my husband is an absolute minimalist and thinks NOTHING of tossing out books (!!) he didn’t totally love. So this book being on his shelf means it’s something special. I’m looking forward to reading French Dirt soon…the only question is, is that before or after I check out Richard’s new book about writing?

How Did I Have the Nerve to Write a Book About Writing?

Whatever gave me the gall, the chutzpah, the moxie, to write a book about writing? Yet another book about writing? Now that I ask that question, I start to wonder myself. Luckily, I didn’t think that much about it while I was doing it or I’m sure I would have stopped myself cold. And maybe that’s one of the best lessons about anything you do in writing: don’t think about it too much. I know that’s the worst thing you can do when you play baseball. As soon as you start thinking about how you’re going to catch a fly ball, that ball inevitably lands on the grass next to you.

I guess the best answer to this question is that I was obsessed. Completely obsessed. Now, normally that word carries with it a sense of the irrational. But in art I believe it’s quite the opposite. W.S. Merwin once said that artists pray to be obsessed by something, and I think he’s right. When you are obsessed, you must get to your writing table, to your project. There is a sense of urgency you can’t deny. It draws you and rules over you, and you are not unhappy to be in its thrall. What this always means to me when it happens—and it happens all too, too infrequently—is that I have tapped into some deep essential core of me. And I don’t believe I can find a more legitimate substantiation for what I’m doing.

From this obsession and its source come passion, and energy, and belief, and confidence. Give me these four, and I’ll move mountains. The first essay in the book that I wrote is the second one in the book, “In Search of the Exact Word.” It's inspired by Gustave Flaubert's relentless search for le mot juste, the exact word, and it takes off from there. I just loved writing it. It allowed me to use all those passage from books I'd been hoarding for years like a literary packrat. All the essays in the book are passion-fueled, I believe. "The Music of Prose" is another chapter. It's about how the best prose is musical—like poetry. Each writer makes his or her own music on the page. Some people call it style. The rhythms and cadences certain writers choose give their prose a unique sound. With some, it's so evident you can almost hum their work. So, the essay talks about that, and about how you, the writer, might become a better verbal composer. I've also got a chapter called "The Secret Strength of Words," about etymology. The title is from a Milan Kundera quote in which he says that a word's etymology gives it a secret strength and "floods the word with another light and gives it a broader meaning." There are seven more chapters, about different aspects of words and writing.

What did all this obsession tell me? I think it told me—and tells any writer—that you can be writing about the craziest thing, but it doesn’t matter. Birds, oysters, rats—or syntax. When you’re obsessed, you don’t worry if it’s the right or the wrong thing to do, you just write.

I think with nonfiction especially, it’s an interesting exercise to reduce your book to three or four sentences, as if you were trying to describe it to a stranger. When I think about The Soul of Creative Writing that way, I describe it as a love letter to the English language. Which I guess brings me to the second, not unrelated answer to the question of why. My book professes its love for the English language—openly, fully, ardently. I guess you could say I shout it from the tallest mountain, though I did my best to make the writing nuanced and graceful and not bellowing. The reader will have to judge whether I succeeded or not. But the fact is that there is a sense of “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun” to the book. It’s a pretty undisguised Valentine. I know a lot less than many other very capable men and women about writing and literature. In terms of the deep particulars of writing—syntax, rhetoric, and so on—my knowledge is woefully thin, thin as ice in late April. But like the poor peasant who goes after milady’s hand, blind to his low station, fueled by his ardor, so I went ahead wrote my book.

Actually, I wrote the first chapter because I had to give a lecture. I was starting to teach at Spalding University’s Brief Residency MFA in Writing Program, and I wanted my debut lecture to be good. Or even better. I remember I was at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts for a few weeks, and I couldn’t have been luckier to have that solitude and unfettered time to work. As soon as I had my topic—and I have to thank M. Gustave Flaubert for that—I was off and running. I couldn’t wait to get to my study every day, armed with reference books and journals I had kept through the years.

Now, I don’t want to be flip and say I could have written this book when I was nineteen. I think there had to be other things going here, too. The Soul of Creative Writing draws on years of reading and writing. It draws on so many moments of reading when I said to myself, “That’s so good!” and noted it either in a journal, underlined it, or tucked it away in my cerebellum somewhere. I couldn’t have written the book without my larder, however ill-stocked, of other authors’ words. But in the end it was my obsession that led me—dragged me—through the ten chapters of this book, one by one, and said, don’t look back, just look ahead. Do it. And that’s the answer I’ll give you when you ask me how did I have the nerve to write a book about writing. ~~Richard Goodman

About: Richard Goodman is the author of The Soul of Creative Writing and French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France. He has written for the New York Times, Harvard Review, Creative Nonfiction, Saveur, Vanity Fair, Commonweal, Ascent, Louisville Review and the Michigan Quarterly Review. He teaches creative nonfiction at Spalding University's Brief Residency MFA in Writing program. Please see his web site for more information.

* VCCA = Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a magical place where artists and writers GET WORK DONE in a beautiful, arts-conducive environment. I urge every working writer to apply for a residency! See the web site for details.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Lionel Shriver Reading at Politics & Prose

Oh, dear…I’m torn. Lionel Shriver is reading at Politics & Prose bookstore on Friday night. I haven’t read the book she’s promoting, The Post-Birthday World, (though I bought it; it’s in that stack of books I’m dying to get to!) but I deeply admired her thought provoking and highly accomplished novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, which I wrote about here.

I loved this book so much that I squeezed it onto my “favorite books” shelf.

So, I’d love to see her read…but Steve is coming home from a long business trip. On one hand, reconnecting with one’s husband after a long trip is, as my friend Martha Stewart would say, “a good thing.” On the other hand, watching one’s husband sleep off his deep, business-trip-inspired fatigue is…well…let’s just say probably a bit less compelling than a great reading by a great writer!

Guess I’ll decide on Friday.

Here are the details from the Politics & Prose newsletter for those of you better equipped to make a commitment:

Friday, March 7, 7 p.m.
THE POST-BIRTHDAY WORLD (Harper Perennial, $14.95)
Shriver’s richly enjoyable novel is now in paperback. The story is cleverly based on alternative scenarios for Irina’s love life: the children’s book illustrator could stay with her somewhat stodgy partner of ten years, or she could leave and start again with a somewhat dodgy snooker champion. This is the accomplished Shriver’s eighth novel.

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

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Died and Gone to Heaven

I must have a hole in my head to have forgotten to mention this exciting turn of events: Last week, I came home from my novel workshop at Johns Hopkins, pleased and inspired by our wonderful, and wonderfully intense, discussion of The Great Gatsby, to find an email inviting me to read at the Arts Club of Washington in conjunction with DC’s “Big Read” program, which will focus this year on…The Great Gatsby!

“Would it be possible for me to read from my work and to talk about how The Great Gatsby may have influenced my writing?”

Oh…gee...maybe I could do that! For what—an hour? Two hours?

Don’t worry—nothing so extreme. But I am truly thrilled to have an opportunity to talk about Fitzgerald and my ideal novel, The Great Gatsby. And I decided that this would be a good opportunity to try reading from some of my new work—the endless novel-in-progress. Details to follow, but the reading is set for Tuesday, May 6. I can’t wait!!

Split This Rock: Poems of Provocation & Witness

Don’t you hear this hammer ring?
I’m gonna split this rock
And split it wide!
When I split this rock
Stand by my side.
~~Langston Hughes

As always, poets say so much in few words. Here is the latest update about Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, which will be held here in Washington, SOON: March 20-23, 2008. If you believe that art and politics have—or should have—a meeting point, please get involved, whether by attending the conference or supporting the festival through a donation.

Following is the message from the Festival Executive Coordinating Committee, Sarah Browning, Melissa Tuckey, Regie Cabico, Jaime Jarvis:

We, too, have lift off: the schedule is up! Visit the website at to view the schedule for Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, coming to Washington, DC, March 20-23. Register today for this historic event.

Converging on the nation's capital as we enter our sixth year of war in Iraq, poets will gather to say: No! to war in Iraq and Yes! to activism, community, and poetry.

The festival kicks off with a press conference Thursday, March 20 and ends with a silent march and closing ceremony in front of the White House on Sunday, March 23. In between, we will celebrate poetry and activism with panel discussions, workshops, collaborative writing, walking tours, film, and readings.

Why Split This Rock?
Split This Rock Poetry Festival calls poets to a greater role in public life and fosters a national network of activist poets. Building the audience for poetry of provocation and witness from our home in the nation's capital, we celebrate poetic diversity and the transformative power of the imagination.

Featuring four days of readings, workshops, panels, contests, walking tours, film, parties, and activism! With Chris August, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Princess of Controversy, Robert Bly, Kenneth Carroll, Grace Cavalieri, Lucille Clifton, Joel Dias Porter (aka DJ Renegade), Mark Doty, Martín Espada, Carolyn Forché, Brian Gilmore, Sam Hamill, Galway Kinnell, Stephen Kuusisto, Semezhdin Mehmedinovic, E. Ethelbert Miller, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Alix Olson, Alicia Ostriker, Ishle Yi Park, Sonia Sanchez, Patricia Smith, Susan Tichy, Pamela Uschuk, and Belle Waring.

The full program schedule is now online!

Register Today!
There is only one week left to save on registration! Before March 10 registration is only $75 or $40 for students, and includes entry to all readings, workshops, panels, receptions, walking tours, and other activities.

$25 will buy a day pass, which includes readings, workshops, panels and other activities for one day. Register online: You can also download a form and send it in. Scholarships available. Check the website for details.

Split This Rock Needs Your Support!
Support Split This Rock, the historic gathering of activist poets: Donations are tax-deductible through our fiscal sponsor, the Institute for Policy Studies. Just click here and be sure to designate "Split This Rock" as the project you'd like to support. Or send a check payable to "IPS/Split This Rock" to: IPS, 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036. For more information about sponsorship, contact Sarah Browning at

Monday, March 3, 2008

Looks Like Half of Us Should Give Up Now

What to make of this?

There I was, innocently reading the March 2, 2008 issue of the New York Times Book Review when I noticed that in the full reviews, 2 books were written by a woman. One is a novel, The Boys in the Trees by Mary Swan, and admittedly, the other is the cover review of Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East by Robin Wright.

Still…this is out of 20 books reviewed. I worked on my taxes over the weekend, so I think (hope!) my math skills are up to speed: that’s 10 percent.

Surely things are different at my hometown fave, The Washington Post Book World. Alas, not so much. Again, two full reviews of books by women out of 12 books covered with full reviews. Pulling out my trusty calculator, that makes for 17 percent. Adding in the two full reviews by the regular (male) columnists, that’s two more books by two more men—and we’re down to 9 percent. There are two “round up” reviews, though one (written by a man) is pretty much just a list of three books by men and two by women. The other is a group round-up “for young readers”—written by a woman—who reviews 5 books by women out of 6 total. Promoting the sisterhood? I don’t know enough about the young reader market to know how if significantly more of those books are written by women or not.

Now, maybe all this is just a coincidence and next week the pages will be chock full of books by women—who, I believe, actually make up the bulk of the book-buyers and readers in this country. We’ll see.

Don’t get me started on Oprah and the fact that she is constantly choosing books written by men for her club despite an audience that is surely overwhelmingly women.

Don’t get me started on The New Yorker…though if you want to go there yourself, check out this analysis of the fiction published there from 2003 to 2007. (Thanks to Madam Mayo for this link.) Here’s one finding to perk your interest:

“Gender: From the database we learn that, of the 257 stories in the New Yorker from 2003 through 2007, 96 or 37.4% were penned by women.”

I wonder what their subscriber base is? Someone has to be buying all those sterling silver dolphin pins for $800 advertised in the back.

Inside the Mind of the Lit Journal Editor

Ever wonder what that literary journal editor was thinking? Here’s some insight into what Jessica Keener, a fiction editor at The Agni Review, thought about some submissions she read. While reading her comments won’t help you with your specific story, it will remind you both of how much work it is to read through all those manuscripts…and how because it’s so much work and there are so many manuscripts, yours REALLY has to stand out in every way. But I like seeing how passionate Jessica can be when she finds something she likes. Gives me hope!

I found this from a link at Buzz, Balls & Hype, which referred to a full interview with Jessica that doesn’t seem to be coming up for me right now, but maybe will for you at


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