Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Delmarva Review: Call for Submissions

Despite the regional sound to the title, all are welcome to submit to The Delmarva Review, according to this call for submissions:

The Delmarva Review Seeks New Prose, Poetry, and Artwork Submissions

The Delmarva Review, a regional literary review open to all writers, is now calling for submissions of new poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction through Dec. 31, 2008, for the second issue. The editors will consider writers’ “best unpublished work.”

The Review is seeking unpublished “evocative” fiction up to 3,000 words, poetry up to 40 lines, and creative nonfiction up to 1,500 words. Photography and artwork will also be considered for the cover and illustration. For writers’ guidelines and submission information, see the website.

Twenty-four authors from eight states and three foreign countries were represented in the 2008 issue, though most writers were from the Chesapeake Bay and Delmarva region, including Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. Copies are available in libraries, select book stores, and through the Review’s website.

The standards are for “well-written, evocative prose and poetry exhibiting skillful expression.” Submission guidelines called for “great story-telling and moving poetry. In creative nonfiction, we are particularly interested in material influenced by the land, people, and cultures of the Chesapeake Bay and Delmarva regions.”

Established and emerging writers are encouraged to submit their best work. The nonprofit Eastern Shore Writers’ Association, with members across the Delmarva Peninsula, sponsors and publishes The Delmarva Review. Its website is www.easternshorewriters.org.

Job Opportunity at One of My Fave Magazines

Lots of job listings here lately…maybe it’s all the stress about the collapsing economy! Okay—so this one at the Oxford American doesn’t pay, but it’s an AMAZING magazine and I’m sure you’ll gain valuable experience leading to big bucks down the road in the editorial biz:

I originally read the ad in the magazine, so tell them that when you apply (anyway, you should be reading the magazine). But here’s the info off the website:

If you are enthusiastic about learning any facet of the magazine business, including editing and writing (and other specialized areas like ad sales, graphic design, or publicity), please consider applying for an internship at The Oxford American.

No previous experience necessary. We offer year-round programs that can accommodate most schedules. (The minimum internship lasts three months in the summer and five to six months during the rest of the year.) The job is full time and non-paying.

The Oxford American internship program provides some flexibility for internship starting dates, but most applicants prefer to start their internship periods in January, mid-May, or mid-August. We encourage potential interns to submit their applications according to the following deadlines:

March 20 (for internships starting around mid-May)
August 1 (for internships starting around mid-August)
November 10 (for internships starting in January)

Send applications to:
Attn: Internship Program
201 Donaghey Avenue
Main 107
Conway, AR 72035

Or e-mail: oamag@oxfordamericanmag.com

Oxford American interns are thoroughly trained and given many responsibilities. On leaving OA headquarters our interns are ready to conquer the world. READ MORE ABOUT INTERNSHIPS

Monday, September 29, 2008

Yes, Your Verse Is Alive, Emily!

I’m sorry to be missing this event, as this new book on Emily Dickinson and her friendship with Thomas Wentworth Higginson has been getting a lot of buzz:

The Arts Club of Washington presents "Her Own Society: Brenda Wineapple on Emily Dickinson" based on Wineapple's new book White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

Tuesday, October 7 - 7:00 PM
Arts Club of Washington
2017 I Street NW, DC.
(703) 994-3166.
Free and open to the public; booksigning and reception to follow.

On Tuesday, October 7, the Arts Club of Washington will host renowned author BrendaWineapple as she discusses the lives of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Their mysterious kinship is illuminated in Wineapple’s book White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, which Knopf released this August to rave reviews. Higginson was a radical abolitionist, John Brown supporter, gun-runner, and leader of the first federally authorized regiment of black troops. He made the elusive poet’s acquaintance when she responded his Atlantic Monthly article offering advice to “young contributors.” She hand-scribbled a query: “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?” Examining the poems, Higginson recognized “a wholly new and original poetic genius.”

EMILY DICKINSON (1830-1886) lived out most of her life in her family’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts. A prolific but private poet, she published fewer than a dozen poems before her death; later generations placed her among the masters of American poetry. Dickinson cultivated few outside correspondences, but her letters with Higginson spanned a quarter-century and included the exchange of almost one hundred poems. They would meet face-to-face only twice, encounters that are carefully and thrillingly recreated in White Heat.

BRENDA WINEAPPLE is also the author of the award-winning Hawthorne: A Life, Genêt: A Biography of Janet Flanner, and Sister Brother: Gertrude and Leo Stein. She teaches in the MFA programs at Columbia University and The New School and lives in New York City.

Judith Thurman of The New Yorker praises Wineapple as “an astute literary biographer with a feisty prose style and a relish for unsettling received ideas....White Heat is written with a dry heat that does justice to its impassioned protagonists.” Franz Wright declared White Heat to be “one of the most astonishing books about poetry I have ever read.”

For more information, check the web site.

Popular Culture + Poetry

Here’s an interesting call for submissions for poets. (I can already envision my “Ode to Project Runway”!)--

Umbrella, the supremely rereadable electronic journal, is now reading for our winter issue, online December 1st. Guidelines are here. In addition to reading works of a general nature, our theme for the Winter edition will be popular culture. Movies, TV shows, music, fashions, trends, pop icons and iconography: intrigue us with poems that recognize the depths beneath the shallows. Deadline: November 10, 2008.

And if you scroll down in the guidelines, you’ll see that they’re also looking for umbrella artwork: “Images featuring umbrellas, in digital format, whether photographs, photographic collages, or photos of artworks, are eagerly sought!”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Blogging Break

I will be away from blogging until October 8ish, but thanks to the miracle that is modern life, I have—I hope!—set up some posts to magically appear while I’m gone. So…either this will work nicely and there will be updates to read all next week. Or, none of it will work, and there will be about fifty things to read all at once on October 8.

Guest in Progress: Paula Guran

I don’t know Paula Guran, but I automatically adore her since she was kind enough to grant permission for me to reprint the following piece about our brave new world of grammar. I live in constant confusion about things like whether it’s proper to write e-mail, email, or even E-mail…web site or website? Here are some authoritative answers on this topic for those of you who, like me, sit up at night worrying about this kind of stuff. (I’m serious, BTW.)

This piece is taken from the newsletter sent out by Writers.com: Writers on the Net, which offers a tempting series of online writing classes, writing groups, a (free!) newsletter, which I recommend, and a bajillion other resources. You can check out the line-up of classes here, and subscribe to the newsletter here.

Also worth checking out: Paula’s blog, which can be found here. After all, you have to respect someone who has had this said of her: "Paula Guran is the grey eminence behind the world of horror. She is the secret mistress of the genre. Listen to her."
--Neil Gaiman, author/screenwriter


Way back in 1994 when I first started composing e-mail newsletters, the words associated with online communication were just beginning to acquire a set "style." My first encounter with bona fide guidance to cyberterms came in 1996 with "Wired Style: Principles Of English Usage In The Digital Age From 'Wired'". I adopted their style for the most commonly used cyberwords and usually adhered to it (with the one exception noted below) since.

-- "Internet" is always capitalized as is its abbreviation "Net"; preceded by "the" unless being used as a modifier. (You find something on "the" Internet, but you connect through an Internet service provider.)

-- "Web" is a shortened form of the proper name "World Wide Web" and is always capitalized. "Web site" is two separate words with the word "Web" capped. (Compound words like "webzine," webmaster," webcam," webcast," etc. are lowercase.)

-- "online" (no capital, no hyphen)-- "email" (no capital, no hyphen)

Now the Internet and its vocabulary are commonplace and enough time has passed that consensus has been reached by reputable style guides. "Internet," "Web," and "online" have been standardized.

And, although I see "website" commonly used in fiction books and elsewhere, as the "Chicago Manual of Style" puts it: "formal usage still calls for 'Web site,' in recognition of the initiatives of the World Wide Web Consortium."

The proper style for the common term for "electronic mail" is, according to the 11th edition of "Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary", "e-mail." (M-W dropped its previous recommendation of the capital "e" but retained the hyphen.) "The Associated Press Stylebook" adopted "e-mail" earlier and the 15th edition of the "Chicago Manual of Style" uses "e-mail" as well.

Bill Walsh, a Washington Post copy editor and author of "Lapsing Into a Comma", considers the unhyphenated version an "abomination." He makes a valid point: "...no initial-based term in the history of the English language has ever evolved to form a solid word."

As for the plural of "e-mail", CMS sees "e-mail" being grammatically equivalent to "mail" as "sensible" as in:
-- Do you have any e-mail?
-- How much e-mail do you get?
-- How many e-mail messages did he send to you?
-- E-mail is great.

Sentences such as these, below, cannot be considered definitely incorrect, but CMS feels they seem to be more informal:
-- I got two e-mails today.
-- Send me some e-mails when you get a chance.

As always, the important thing about style is picking one and being consistent.~~Paula Guran

About: Paula Guran is the editor/editorial director of fantasy imprint Juno Books. In an earlier life she produced weekly email newsletter DarkEcho (winning two Stokers, an IHG award, and a World Fantasy nomination), edited Horror Garage (earning another IHG and second a World Fantasy nomination), and has contributed reviews, interviews, and articles to numerous professional publications. You can read Paula’s blog, here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Happy Birthday...

…to my guy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, born in St. Paul, Minnesota (1896). Here’s a link to number of quotations attributed to him, many of them unfamiliar to me. Some are quite bleak, some are funny, many are inspiring, and of course all are brilliant! Complicated guy. I suspect this is not an original observation, but I bet he’d be fun at a cocktail party.

A quick sample:

“Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle.”

“In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day.”

“It is sadder to find the past again and find it inadequate to the present than it is to have it elude you and remain forever a harmonious conception of memory.”

“His was a great sin who first invented consciousness. Let us lose it for a few hours.”

“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”

"Short Stack": New Washington Post Book Blog

The Washington Post has started a daily-ish blog about books called Short Stack, which can be found here.

I thought this post was interesting, about what a reviewer’s responsibility is when a book has a “secret”: reveal or not? This discussion was in regard to the new Philip Roth novel (which I feel is getting more than enough publicity on its own without my mentioning it by title). From what I’ve read about this book, it seems to me as though because the secret comes in within the first quarter of the book, and because it doesn’t really make sense to talk about the book without it, revealing is okay. Reviewers dishing on whodunit…not so cool.

Baltimore Book Festival

The Baltimore Book Festival is this weekend, and while you can read about the whole event here, I’d like to note two events of particular interest:

Friday, September 26, 2008
5pm-6:30 pm
Fiction writer Paula Whyman will be reading along with other Maryland State Arts Council grant recipients.

Baltimore Book Festival, Creative Café tent, Mt. Vernon Place, 600 block of Charles Street, Baltimore, MD. Free Admission. Details are here.

Saturday, September 27
2:00 pm
Poet/editor Kim Roberts participates in a panel discussion, "Getting Publicity for Your Work" with Binnie Syril Braunstein of Press Kit Communications, Michelle Murray of Chapter Three, prize winning novelist Djelloul Marbrook, and Marilyn Marbrook of the NEA literary program.

Baltimore Book Festival, Creative Cafe tent, Mt. Vernon Place, 600 block of Charles Street, Baltimore, MD. Free Admission. Details are here.

Reading Opportunity for Poets

Apparently, it’s all poets, all the time around here this week:

Call for Readers: Cornelia Street Café is looking for readers to take part in a reading series for Post-MFA / Pre-Book Poets. Three poets read for 10 minutes each. The poets then discuss the trials and tribulations of writing after the MFA and before finding a home for their manuscript.The next reading is 11/17/08. This is a non paying gig.

To be a reader, please submit 5 poems to alexandraloxton@gmail.com

You can also check us out on Facebook as "Post MFA / Pre Book Reading Series."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Stomping Gently on the Writer's Heart"

Writer and editor Brian Doyle explores the art of “no” in this essay about rejection slips published by the Kenyon Review. (Link via About Last Night)—

“The most honest rejection letter I ever received for a piece of writing was from Oregon Coast Magazine, to which I had sent a piece that was half bucolic travelogue and half blistering attack on the tendencies of hamlets along the coast to seek the ugliest and most lurid neon signage for their bumper-car emporia, myrtlewood lawn-ornament shops, used-car lots, auto-wrecking concerns, terra-cotta nightmares, and sad moist flyblown restaurants.

“’Thanks for your submission,’ came the handwritten reply from the managing editor. ‘But if we published it we would be sued by half our advertisers.’

“This was a straightforward remark and I admire it, partly for its honesty, a rare shout in a world of whispers, and partly because I have, in thirty years as a writer and editor, become a close student of the rejection note. The shape, the color, the prose, the tone, the subtext, the speed or lack thereof with which it arrives, even the typeface or scrawl used to stomp gently on the writer’s heart—of these things I sing.”

Missouri Review Contest

I try to avoid posting about contests that require fees, but the Missouri Review contest offers a lot of $$ for the winners and is quite prestigious. Plus, the fee gets a year-long subscription to the journal, which is such a good journal that we all probably should be subscribing to it anyway.

But get moving—the deadline is October 1:

The October 1st deadline for our 18th annual Jeffrey E. Smith Prize for fiction, essay, and poetry is rapidly approaching. Once again, we’re offering prize amounts of $3,000 per genre plus publication in our spring issue, making this one of the nation’s top literary prizes. Three finalists in each genre will also receive awards and be considered for publication. The entry fee of $20 includes a year-long, 4-issue subscription. Submit by mail or electronically.

Check out www.missourireview.com/contest for complete guidelines and on-line submission form.

Poetry Job

This sounds like an interesting job…for someone with these skills! (Note that the deadline for email application is September 25.)

Job Title: Editor and Online Program Manager, Poetryfoundation.org

Job Description: The role of editor of poetryfoundation.org includes the following responsibilities:
--Provide editorial direction to staff editors, producers, and consultants in order to publish the site's frequently updated content. This includes acquiring and approving all articles and other content such as feature articles, podcasts, and other audio and visual features.

--Work with other Foundation program senior managers to publish online content and information from all program areas at the Foundation.

--Develop marketing plans and campaigns to promote the website as needed. Direct the process by which poems and other materials about poets and poetry are added to the site's archive. This includes supervising the permissions process for all published content.

--Collaborate with other editors at the Foundation on poetry issues and judging of awards as necessary.

The role of online program manager includes the following responsibilities:

--Manage the technical staff and consultants who design and develop the site's user interface to
ensure the quality of the user experience.

--Manage technical consultants, including developers, usability experts, and hosting providers, to ensure the security and performance of the underlying technical infrastructure.

--Develop and execute plans to steadily increase traffic to the site, including managing the process for gathering and reporting web traffic data, search results, and web traffic marketing plans, and establishing partnerships with other websites important to the mission of the Foundation.

Extensive background and familiarity with contemporary poetry
Extensive experience with managing editorial processes, including web publishing processes. Strong knowledge of web technology and web design
Substantial project management experience
B.A. degree or greater in English literature or computer-related studies

Salary: This position offers a competitive salary and excellent benefits. Full-time, exempt.

Application: The Poetry Foundation is an equal opportunity employer and values the various perspectives and talents of a diverse staff. Interested applicants should email a cover letter, along with a C.V. or résumé, to employment@poetryfoundation.org

(please send all attachments as a Word or PDF document; subject line: Editor/Online Program Manager).

The deadline for applications is September 25, 2008.

More info: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/foundation/Webeditor.html

Monday, September 22, 2008

David Foster Wallace Commencement Speech

Thanks to husband Steve for pointing out this: The Wall Street Journal ran an adaptation of the commencement speech that David Foster Wallace gave to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. I thought it was remarkable:

“And I submit that this is what the real, no-bull- value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.

“That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. So let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in, day out" really means. There happen to be whole large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.”

Note: I can’t even remember who my commencement speaker was…some sciencey guy. THIS I would have remembered.

"Workshop Your Book"...All of It!

If you’re working on a novel-in-progress (or book-length memoir), you probably know how hard it is to find good feedback. Traditional workshops may not be skilled at coping with chapters—not to mention that sometimes you only get to submit one chapter per workshop. But here’s an opportunity for you to get continuous, concrete feedback from an excellent teacher and fellow novelists/memoirists-in-progress. And it sounds as though this class would also work for you even if you’re just at the beginning of your project. Here’s instructor Hildie Block’s invitation and class description:

Are you, or someone you know, working on a book? I have 1 more space in my Workshop Your Book, yearlong writer's workshop. The group meets to discuss novels and memoirs, Monday evenings 7:30-10 pm in N. Arlington (VA) at Ft C F Smith. We meet about 30 times over about 10 months (we take breaks after about 8 sessions). This is the third year I've offered this group and it's amazing to watch people fulfill their dreams and complete a draft in that time.

Most workshops are only 8 sessions long, and people are limited to workshopping about 50 pages in that time. This workshop gives you the opportunity to workshop 200+ pages! And the bonds formed between folks last . . . both of my previous groups have stayed together to support each other through subsequent drafts!

In addition to workshopping, we'll chat about everything from plot structures to dialogue, agents to publishers.

The cost for the whole year is $750, payable through check or paypal.

(And who am I? I have a masters in writing from Johns Hopkins and have taught writing at American and GWU as well as given lectures at JHU. I currently lead several writing workshops through the Writer’s Center. My book Not What I Expected: the unpredictable road from womanhood to motherhood was released in 2007, and I have had over 50 short stories published.)

Please email me with questions-- hsblock@verizon.net

Book Giveaway--Results

Congratulations to Lisa Kenney, of Centennial, Colorado, who was randomly selected to receive a free, signed copy of Joshua Henkin’s novel, MATRIMONY. Thanks to Josh for making the book giveaway possible!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Guest in Progress: Paula Whyman

A short but sweet intro…here’s writer Paula Whyman, telling it like it is in her “book proposal” for The Life of the Unsuccessful Writer:

The Real Writing Life
by Paula Whyman

Book Notes

From the Publisher: The Life of the Unsuccessful Writer by Paula Whyman is an instructive and contemplative meditation on writing and on life and, indeed, on the writing life, intended to provide a real world, experientially based, holistic ballast against which aspiring writers may gauge their expectations and balance their hopes and dreams. From a ‘writer’s writer’ who’s so obscure, even other writers won’t know who she is. Unlike well-known and successful authors who have produced inspirational writing guides, such as Eudora Welty and Joyce Carol Oates, here is a writer whom other writers can realistically hope to emulate.

Publishers Weekly called the book “a…much-needed tutorial for the vast majority of writers who are destined to labor in obscurity, well-deserved.”

Promotions: Postcard mailing, print ad in Poets & Writers, readings in Spokane, Sheboygan, Tallahassee, Queens, Olney, and anyplace else where the author has long-lost cousins, ex-friends, or more successful author friends who feel guilty enough to let her crash for the night. Print run 500, staple-bound. Workmanlike Press.

A follow-up to this volume, entitled The Spiritual Life of the Unsuccessful Writer: Cursing the Darkness and Lighting a Candle Only to Find It’s Not the Dripless Kind, will be released in Spring 2009.

Excerpt from Chapter 1

A Day in the Life: A Little Splash of Cold Water for the Soul
(or, A Place Called Hope in a Land Called Delusion)

Adhering to a daily schedule of work is the first step toward discipline in your writing. You may wish to keep track of your tasks by entering your daily accomplishments in a journal. Here’s an actual description of a typical work day, selected at random from my own journals.

8:30am: Yippee! The kids are off to school. I have all day to write! What freedom! I pay the bills and eat breakfast. I drink the same tea as Salman Rushdie. Is it helping?

9am: I have all day to write! I’m going to work on my novel! It’s my third novel. The other two have not been published. The first one was rejected by 28 editors, all of whom commented on how much they admired the writing—28 ‘good’ rejections, wow! The second novel made it to the quarter-final round of a prestigious contest run by a small university press (not Iowa). Should I put that in the cover letter with my next submission?? The winning novel was published by the university press as a paperback original, and the author was paid $1,500. There was no second printing. I am jealous.

9:30am: I receive an email from the Author’s Guild announcing a settlement in a class action suit. Has any of my work been reproduced electronically without my permission? If so, I can now get paid. I think about this. Hmm, I’m pretty sure I signed over electronic rights in my contract with that magazine, along with 100 shares of stock in Microsoft, my parking space, a few ovaries, and a puppy. They’re publishing my work; I don’t want to piss them off.

9:45am: People are calling--Everyone loves the piece I wrote for the city newspaper! I’m great! I’m a writer! People read my stuff! Editor asks me for another piece!

10:30am: Editor of city newspaper rejects my new story, saying he likes it but it’s “not quite right for them.” “Not quite right”: the classic half-ass brush-off non-explanation explanation. I sulk. I know it’s a great piece. What’s their problem? My mother thought the piece was hilarious. Are they saying my mother doesn’t know what’s good for them?

11am: I email the new piece to four newspapers in other cities. One writes back immediately to say they don’t buy freelance stories. Another writes back to say I should send it to a different editor. I send it to that editor, and she says they don’t buy freelance stories. I never hear back from the other two.

Noon: The mail comes. I receive a check I’ve been expecting for six months for an article I wrote a year ago. I put it on top of the mail pile to show my husband when he comes home. See, I’m getting paid for writing! I’m a writer!

Also in the mail, a rejection slip from The Topeka Review for a short story I submitted. It has taken them six months to respond to my submission. They send me a form rejection slip with no comments. Fuck ’em. Fuckin’ Topeka. Fucking piss-ant grad-student-reader fucking soul-patch-wearing eyelid-piercing tattoo-fearing milk-drinking intelligent-design-advocating UN-hating philistine

I also receive a rejection for a short story I submitted to a prestigious journal. They give me written comments: They love it! I’m great! They want to see more of my work! I’m on top of the world. I highlight the good parts and tape the rejection slip to an index card and stick it on my bulletin board. Whenever I pause in my work, I stare at the rejection and my soul is filled with a boundless joy. I love everyone. I’m going to finish my novel and it will be published and prominently displayed on end-caps in Barnes & Noble, where it will be selected for the Discover New Writers program. PEN will see my genius and I’ll be nominated for an award. I’ll be asked to write a feature related to the topic of my novel for the New York Times Sunday Magazine. I’ll be interviewed on NPR. An excerpt of the book will appear in The New Yorker. Film options will be sold, translation rights...

12:40pm: Why haven’t I been working on my novel?

1pm: I receive an email from the editor of an obscure online magazine: Will I please write a column for which I won’t get paid, but think of the glory? I’m flattered, and I accept.

1:30pm: I do my civic duty and write a pro bono letter on behalf of my community protesting a tree removal plan. Four board members request conflicting edits. One of them takes issue with the tone. What--Sarcastic? Moi? Another would like to add comments about Intelligent Design. I tell them the letter is theirs to do with as they wish, but please remove my name. Did Hemingway have to put up with this?

2:15pm: Stare into space.

2:30pm: I’m in the zone. I’m writing, finally.

2:38pm: The phone rings. It’s my mother. She’s calling to tell me about something very important that’s happening to someone I don’t know two months from now. I ask her if I can call her when I’m finished working. I’m writing! I can’t be interrupted! Does A.S. Byatt answer the phone when she’s in the zone?!

3:15 pm: I’ve figured out what’s wrong with my novel: There’s no discernible plot. I’m on page 137. But the characters are great! WWVWD? (What would Virginia Woolf do?) It’s important to stay positive; I’m nearly halfway through, right? Must. Keep. Writing.

4:23 pm: Alice calls very excited. She’s going to have a short story in The Atlantic Monthly. It’s the first time she’s ever submitted there. She’s quite talented, and she deserves the recognition. I’m really very happy for her.


I’ve submitted every story I’ve ever written to the Atlantic, and I’ve had such nice, encouraging comments from Mr. Curtis each time. “Maybe the next one,” he wrote. He said that! So I send a next one, and a next, and each time I feel as if our relationship is developing, growing—we’re cozy, we’re buds, we’re colleagues—that it’s just a matter of a sentence’s difference, a few words here and there, and he’ll take it, he’ll say ‘yes.’ Yes! Maybe the section breaks are problematic, too many asterisks in a row—Should I have gone with four and not five? I know he wants it to be perfect, and we’ve come so very close. And then I hear—not even from him—about the Fiction Issue: no more monthly stories, just a single annual Fiction Issue. And now he says ‘yes’ to Alice. I can’t help it; it feels like a betrayal. I take out his letters and re-read them, looking for clues, subliminal messages, holograms…

4:45 pm: Stare into space. Wonder when the literary magazines will be submitting their Pushcart Prize and O’Henry and Best American award nominees. How can I get them to nominate my stories? Maybe if I send strong subliminal messages by thinking about it very, very hard--

5 pm: Checking Yahoo News. This is called research. There could be something relevant to my novel. Oil prices; Fed raising rates; riots in France. Nope nothing of interest there. Oh, lookie here, someone was fired from the cast of “Desperate Housewives”…

5:48pm: Must. Keep…

6:05 pm: Time for a word-count check. Only the third one this afternoon. That’s the meaning of self-discipline. Number of words written today in my novel: 664. Total word count: 40,661 I broke 40,000! At this rate, I’ll be finished in, let’s see…in…

7 pm: Where is my check? My husband has sorted through the mail and has accidentally torn up the envelope with my check inside, thinking it was junk mail. “Sweetie,” he tells me, “I don’t think that was a paycheck. The fine print said, ‘Signing this check enrolls you in the Visa frequent buyer program for only $9.95 per month.’”

But I get the first month free…don’t I? ~~ Paula Whyman

About: Paula Whyman is the recipient of a 2008 Maryland State Arts Council grant and fellowships to the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Her work is included in Writes of Passage: Coming of Age Stories and Memoirs from The Hudson Review (June 2008, Ivan R. Dee), and in the current issue of The Delmarva Review. Her work is forthcoming on National Public Radio and in the anthology Gravity Dancers, edited by Richard Peabody. She has recently completed a novel. Her humor writing has appeared in the Washington Post Magazine, and more can be found on her website: www.paulawhyman.com.

She will be reading at the Baltimore Book Festival, along with other Maryland State Arts Council grant recipients: Friday, Sept. 26, 5pm-6:30pm at the Creative Café. Details are here.

Last Chance: Book Giveaway!

Enter today for your chance to win a free, signed copy of Joshua Henkin’s novel, MATRIMONY. All you need to do is email your
--Mailing address
--Subject line: MATRIMONY
to me, before NOON EST, tomorrow, Friday, September 19, 2008. One random winner will be selected to receive the book.

Read more about the book in this post.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Great Reads

I made a conscious effort to read more books this summer, and to try some things I might not normally pick up. Sometimes that worked, and other times not. But here’s a short list of some recently-read books that I would strongly recommend, in no particular order:

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles. This books starts as a complaint letter to American Airlines about a bad flight delay and ends up as an exploration of a man’s lost life. Funny and fast—probably perfect for your next flight!

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. I’m probably the last person to get around to reading this excellent non-fiction account of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, but if I’m not, and you haven’t read it either, do! This book gave me a new appreciation of one of my favorite cities.

The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. I previously wrote about Shriver’s other fabulous novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, here. I was worried that this one might seem gimmicky: a woman has a key moment when she could be unfaithful to her long-time lover or she could not, and the book follows her life both ways, if she were unfaithful and if she wasn’t. Rest assured, it wasn’t gimmicky at all, and offered amazing insight into the nature of relationships. Helpful if you’re one of those people who always second-guesses yourself with “should-haves.”.

Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand. A creepy, horrifying novel set in “real” Maine—away from the tourists—that asks tough and fascinating questions about art. Not for the squeamish….

Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave, edited by Ellen Sussman. Women writers were asked to contribute essays about being “bad”—whatever that might mean to them. Two of my favorites were the essay by Katharine Weber about climbing to the 99th floor of the World Trade Center when it was under construction and Pam Houston’s account of her estranged father’s death and funeral.

Before I Die by Jenny Downham. I already wrote about this one here, but it’s worth mentioning again. A 16-year-old girl dies of cancer—yet it’s a beautiful exploration of life and death, not at all sentimental or sappy, but obviously very, very, very sad.

Money for Nothing, Book for Free

Don’t forget to enter for your chance to win a free, signed copy of Joshua Henkin’s novel, MATRIMONY. All you need to do is email your
--Mailing address
--Subject line: MATRIMONY
to me, before NOON EST on Friday, September 19, 2008. One random winner will be selected to receive the book.

Read more about the book in this post.

No spam, no mailing lists.

Writing Contest for DC-Area Children

The Junior League of Washington is sponsoring a writing competition for 4th through 8th graders:

JLW Young Author Competition and November Book Drive: Calling Top Young Authors in our Communities

The JLW’s Young Author Competition is open to 4th through 8th graders in the D.C. metro area including Northern Virginia and Maryland. Stories submitted must be an original work of fiction authored by the child. Only one story per child will be accepted.

The top Young Authors will receive prizes including gift cards to Barnes & Noble, music websites and more. The overall winner will receive a $100 Barnes & Noble gift card.

The top Young Authors will also read their winning stories on Saturday, November 1st at 10 a.m. at the Barnes & Noble in Tyson’s Corner to kick off our November Book Drive. Enter Your Story All stories must be received by October 15th at 5 p.m. You may enter your story through email or regular mail. To email your story, click here. To mail your story, click here

Details are on the web site.

The Junior League of Washington will be accepting book donations for a month-long book drive in November:

November 1st will also kick-off a month-long book drive in our community to help promote the joy of reading to all our local children. Please drop off your gently worn and new books at the following locations during the month of November:

--Junior League of Washington - 3039 M Street NW
--Barnes & Noble – Tyson’s Corner and Georgetown locations
--Other locations still to be finalized

All books and reading levels are welcome and will be donated to our JLW community partners, Book for Bright Futures and D.C. public school children. Details can be found here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Do I Dare Complain about Independent Bookstores?

Here’s one thing you won’t find on books ordered through Amazon: stupid, sticky, impossible-to-peel-off-easily, irritating, ugly PRICE STICKERS. If I’m buying a hardcover, there’s always the tiniest thought in my mind that maybe down the line, this book might be of interest to book collectors willing to pay big bucks for a first edition (i.e. this is my retirement plan), so I don’t appreciate all the gummy stickers gunking up my pretty hardcover paper jackets.

And even if it’s just a trade paperback, I hate that residue left behind after I scrape, scrape, scrape to get off the stupid sticker, wrecking my fingernails in the process.

If you think I’m crazy, please note:

--Price range of “fine” quality first edition of The Great Gatsby without the paper jacket: $3500-$5000

--Price of “fine” quality first edition of The Great Gatsby WITH the paper jacket in “fine” condition: $50,000

(Amusingly, the shipping cost on this purchase is only $8.00. Uh—maybe spring for some insurance on this one?? Or perhaps someone forking out $50K should get free shipping??)

Source (in case you’ve got some pocket change you’re looking to spend): Abebooks

So, independent bookstores, please find less sticky labels already!

If You're Tired of Being a Hermit

Sometimes as a writer, it’s hard to find that community of other writers who really understand you. If you’re fed up with of trying to explain to your loved ones that, no, you’re not just “typing” when you’re holed away at the computer, maybe it’s time you checked out a writing networking group like the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Virginia Writer’s Club:

“The Chapter offers recurrent workshops and expert speakers that offer members the opportunity to exchange ideas and establish contact with others having similar interests. Critique groups are in the formative stages now, and we plan several new programs to bring new members into our chapter. We invite you to visit us if you are in the Northern Virginia area.”

Next meeting:
Sunday, September 21, 2008
3:15 - 5:45 p.m.
Meeting Location: Large meeting room
of the Tysons-Pimmitt Regional Library
7584 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22043-2099
Telephone: 703-790-8088

Refreshments will be served
Meeting Theme: “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”
Details can be found on the web site


Don’t forget to enter for your chance to win a free, signed copy of Joshua Henkin’s novel, MATRIMONY. All you need to do is email your
--Mailing address
--Subject line: MATRIMONY
to me, before NOON EST on Friday, September 19, 2008. One random winner will be selected to receive the book.

Read more about the book in yesterday’s post.

And I promise that by entering, I won't be sending you long emails about my dead uncle's bank account only you can give me access to...if you send me $10,000! You won't be added to any mailing lists, either.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Giveaway!

Here’s your chance to win a free, signed copy of Joshua Henkin’s just-out-in-paperback novel, MATRIMONY. All you need to do is email your
--Mailing address
--Subject line: MATRIMONY
to me, before NOON EST on Friday, September 19, 2008. One random winner will be selected to receive the book.

My extremely-trustworthy-book-recommender friend, novelist Katharine Davis,* recently read MATRIMONY and had this to say:

“I came across Joshua Henkin’s novel, Matrimony, in the new fiction section of my public library. I had a vague recollection of having read a good review of this book, and from the first page to the last, I was not disappointed. Matrimony is one of those rare books that is literary in its depth and complexity, and at the same time is an old-fashioned sweep of a good story that you don’t want to put down.

“Henkin’s novel combines both humor and tragedy. I laughed out loud while reading a scene about “Peer Contraceptive Counselors” who wore PCC badges and greeted freshman with goody bags of flavored spermicide on the first day of college. The novel also has poignant moments when the author writes about life-threatening illnesses without becoming “Oprah-esque.” Best of all Henkin creates characters who are at times appealing, maddening, annoying, and yet loveable.

Matrimony carries these characters through the spoiling haze of undergraduate life, graduate school angst, and the daunting struggle toward responsible adulthood. Included in this journey is a brilliant portrayal of teachers of writing, writers, and the writing life that writers, in particular, won’t want to miss.

“Matrimony is about marriage when it works, and when it doesn’t. It is also a novel about friendship and betrayal and how relationships change and endure over time. In its essence, Joshua Henkin gives us a rich story about love –how we seek it, how we find it, and how it endures. He does this in prose so clear and elegant that makes you forget you are even reading. Having discovered this book in the library, a free and unexpected pleasure, I plan to buy Henkin’s first novel, Swimming Across the Hudson, while impatiently awaiting his next book.”

If you don’t believe her, you can check out this glowing review in the New York Times Book Review: "Beguiling.... [Henkin write] effortless scenes that float between past and present. [He creates] an almost personal nostalgia for these characters."--Jennifer Egan, The New York Times Book Review

Or this one, also from the New York Times:
"Mr. Henkin writes with a winningly anachronistic absence of showiness....This is just a lifelike, likable book populated by three-dimensional characters who make themselves very much at home on the page."--Janet Maslin, The New York Times

*More about Katharine Davis: Katharine Davis began writing fiction in 1999. Capturing Paris (St. Martin’s Press, May 2006) was her first novel. Recommended in Real Simple Spring Travel 2007, the novel was also included in the New York Times (8-8-06) suggestions for fiction set in Paris. Her second novel, East Hope, will be published by New American Library in February 2009. She is an Associate Editor at The Potomac Review. She can be reached at www.katharinedavis.com.

Special thanks to Joshua Henkin for this great offer!

Montgomery County Writers: A New Market for Your Work

Bethesda Magazine is now considering creative work for publication: serialized novels, short stories, and poetry. Authors must live in Montgomery County, Maryland. Questions and submissions (I’m assuming one QUERIES for a novel, vs. sending along the whole kit and caboodle!) should be sent to fiction editor Susan Coll at susan.coll@bethesdamagazine.com.

David Foster Wallace: Follow-Up

Here’s the Washington Post appreciation by a reporter whose father taught with him back in Illinois…too short, but an interesting perspective.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sad News

Wow. David Foster Wallace has committed suicide. I may not have fully appreciated his work in the intense way so many of his numerous fans do, but I certainly appreciated his creative mind and how he boldly pushed literary writing to new places.

I remember his essay “Consider the Lobster” in my beloved Gourmet magazine which resulted in the most “letters to the editor” the magazine has ever received, pro and con. He didn’t convince me to give up eating lobster…but he came close.

I always imagined he’d be one of those guys pushing the boundaries and irritating me (half out of jealousy) until we were in our “golden years.” Sad, sad, sad.

Update: Here's a copy of "Consider the Lobster" in a pdf file: http://www.lobsterlib.com/feat/davidwallace/page/lobsterarticle.pdf

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Guest in Progress: Sara Dobie

In the course of my writing life, I thought that writing a novel would be the hardest part of the process. Then I actually wrote that first novel—and I realized that finding an agent for it would be the hardest part. I finally found an agent for that novel, and when she was unable to sell it, I realized publishing a novel was the hardest part. I wrote some more novels, and was delighted to sell Pears on a Willow Tree, my fourth “first” novel.

Whew, I thought. Easy street from here on out.

Ha, ha.

That’s when I realized that marketing your novel is actually the hardest part. And here’s where this guest post by Sara Dobie, the public relations coordinator of children’s book publisher Sylvan Dell Publishing, comes in. She offers some excellent suggestions to writers—applicable no matter what you’re writing—to help you focus your thoughts on what to do once you’ve signed the contract and now it’s time to publicize the book. In most cases, you will have help from your publishers…but in this tight marketplace, you will need to pitch in, too.

And read on even if you don't have that contract yet. Many of Sara's suggestions can be implemented early on in your process, for example, learning to talk effectively about your book.

Note: After publishing Pears on a Willow Tree, I thought I realized that writing the SECOND novel was actually the hardest thing, but now I’m pretty sure that the hardest thing truly has to be the THIRD novel. In short…it never seems to get easier!!

Don’t Be a Couch Potato….Publicity for Your New Release
by Sara Dobie

Guess what? You’re a published author. Sitting on your couch, it’s hard to believe. Publishing is what happens to other people—people who wear black, smoke cigarettes and talk about Kerouac. It doesn’t happen to people like YOU, who have day jobs, families, and car loans. Obviously, you’re excited. You can already see yourself on the cover of People magazine, Pulitzer in hand. You pat yourself on the back—job well done. You can finally relax and wait to become a millionaire. Right?


Your work has just begun, and it’s the work of “publicity.”

If there is no publicity, no one knows your name. If no one knows your name, no one knows your book. If no one knows your book, it doesn’t sell, and it dies on the shelves faster than you can say “backlist.” So as an author, what can you do to beat the competition? And no, you should not start harassing managers at Barnes and Noble.

1) The Review
Getting your book reviewed is mainly in the hands of your publisher. However, there are plenty of things that you, as an author, can do to assist in the process and make it more effective. Publishers know about the big dogs. They know Publishers Weekly, the New York Times, the LA Times, etc. However, they don’t know the specialists in your field. If your book is about birds, your publisher isn’t going to know the most famous ornithologist who just has to endorse your book. So think—what contacts do you have? Which of these contacts could be used to the advantage of your book? Pass this on to your publisher, and they will thank you for it! If you are willing to help your publisher, it will pay off. They will be much more willing to focus on you, because you’ve done your research. You have the names and organizations; all your publisher has to do is send the emails. Think alumni associations, your local media contacts, state reading associations and national topic-specific magazines that would want to know about your book. The opportunities are endless, and it will keep you ahead of the pack.

2) What’s your pitch?
In other words, what are you selling? Is your book about a new diet that promises Michael Phelps abs? What about a children’s book that can teach kids about ADD? Can you explain the entire theme/mission/importance of your book in five words or less? You need to, because that’s about as much time you’ll have to impress the random Oprah intern who just happens to give you a call. The real question is, can you sell yourself?

Let’s face it—in the media and in stores, no one is booking your novel. They are booking you. If you are lacking in passion for your product, they’ll know, and your book will suffer. You have to be willing to go out there and get those interviews. Get those events. I suggest selling yourself as a package. Any author can just sit there and sign a book. What about an author who can use her book to teach kids about bullies? What about a different author who can show math teachers a better way to interest students in fractions? You have to make bookstores believe you have something to offer. Make them believe you are the one doing the favor, as opposed to vice versa. You are the main attraction. People will come to see you because you are worthy of seeing. If you don’t think so, who will?

3) The Launch
I cannot emphasize how important your book launch is. I have said it over and over and over to authors all over the country. Some believe me, and some don’t. Who do you suppose has the better book sales? If you said the ones who don’t believe me, I’m glad I’m not your publicist.

Okay, in the publishing world, there is a “publication date.” This is when your book is available for purchase to the public. Your launch date should be scheduled around this time. A specific scheduled event should be referred to as your “launch date,” in fact, because a definite date makes it tangible to the media, meaning more likely to be covered. The media likes tangible events, as opposed to vague announcements, as in “People can buy my book now! Cool, huh?” No. They don’t care. They care, however, when you have a cluster of events coming up where people can actually meet you.

What does a cluster entail? I’m talking fifteen to twenty scheduled events, clustered around a two-week period, with your launch right at the beginning. I realize you probably don’t have fifteen to twenty individual bookstores in your hometown. It helps to travel, making it more of an official Author Tour. If your funds require you to stay close to home, no problem! Start with bookstores. Now, what about gift shops and specialty stores whose clientele would relate to your book? What about libraries? If your book is about astronomy, what about planetariums or museums? If it’s about salt marshes, what about national parks? The opportunities are endless. You just have to be ready to work. Events sell books. Yes, authors are artists, and your books do mean a lot to you. However, a book—no matter how good it is—dies without sales. Get out there and schedule events. It’s the way to turn your book into your career.

Don’t mean to be pushy….
The publishing industry is cutthroat. If you’re not careful, your book is old news before you’ve even unwrapped your complimentary copies. You have to retain the passion you had while writing your book through the entire process. Do not let yourself think that once your book is on the shelf, you’re done. You cannot sit back and collect royalty checks. Work with your publisher. Give your input, and use your contacts to encourage word of mouth. Believe in yourself, and bookstores will believe in you, too. Finally, always keep those events coming. Stay in the public eye, and your book will, as well. It feels good to be recognized for your work, but it won’t happen until you get off the couch and show ‘em what you got.

About: Sara Dobie is the Public Relations Coordinator for Sylvan Dell Publishing in South Carolina. Learn more about Sara and Sylvan Dell Publishing at www.SylvanDellPublishing.com.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Speed & Quality

Want to get depressed? Of course you do—you’re a writer. I read this a few days ago on the Writer’s Almanac:

“It's the birthday [September 8], in Washington, D.C., 1947, of writer Ann Beattie, (books by this author) the author of novels and short stories about Americans who came of age in the 1960s. Her first writings appeared in the early 1970s, when The New Yorker began accepting her short stories. She became something of a legend for how fast she worked: 22 stories in a year, then a complete draft of her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, in three weeks.”

Three weeks for a novel! Twenty-two stories in one year (roughly one every two weeks)! Clearly I am defective.

Put the Stamps on the Envelopes

Persistence must be in the nature of the writer. I like to joke that I’m the most stubborn person I know. (My husband doesn’t always see the humor in that statement.) Whether it’s keeping at the writing or keeping at the marketing, the main point is to KEEP GOING.

Here’s an interesting interview with poet Sandra Beasley, who notes the same need for relentlessness with regard to submissions and offers this useful advice:

You've had fellowships to Vermont Studio Center, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Jenny McKean Moore Workshop, the Indiana University Writers' Conference, and the Millay Colony for the Arts. First, what's your secret to success? Second, how have these fellowships benefited you and your work?

“A lot of the opportunities I have had come from just putting stamps on envelopes and getting the darn applications out there. Relentlessly, and with cavalier disregard of the (many, many) rejections that will come your way (or at least, they come my way). You have to make the system as assembly line as possible—go ahead and prepare a generic bio note, c.v., cover letter, project description—though, of course, tailor to the individual application before you send.

“Whenever I get the slightest inclination to actually fill out an application (or for that matter, send out a journal submission), I drop whatever else I'm doing and honor the impulse. Even if I'm at work. Even if I'm on deadline. You always have to prioritize the poetry, because no one will do it for you. …”

As you may recall, Sandra wrote this summary of her time as a fellow at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

And meet Sandra for yourself at one of her upcoming readings:

Monday, September 15 - Reading with Susan Settlemyre Williams at Cafe Muse. 7:30 PM; Friendship Heights Village Center at 4433 South Park Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD.

Wednesday, October 1 - Reading with Barbara Goldberg as part of the Visiting Writer Series at American University. 8 PM; Board Room (6th Fl.), Butler Pavilion, American University in Washington, DC.

You can see more details about these readings at Sandra's web site.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Win $5K in Glamour Magazine's Essay Contest

Here’s a contest sponsored by Glamour magazine (sorry, but I always think of George Costanza now when I hear “Glamour magazine"….!). But this is serious stuff here—you could win $5000!

Got a Great Real-Life Story?

Tell it to Glamour! Enter our sixth essay contest and you could win $5,000, see your story published in an upcoming issue, and meet with a top literary agent. Every woman has an inspiring true story inside her, and we want to hear yours. Is it about time you tested your own courage or found your passion? Start writing now! A panel of writers—including Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley and Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand will help choose the winner.

Contest rules and details can be found here. (Note: No fee!)

Notable Writer's Center Classes

Of course there are many wonderful classes offered this fall at the Writer’s Center (including two of my own; read more about them here). But these three stood out to me—perhaps because I know that these instructors are top-notch.

--Writing for Children and Teens, taught by Ellen Braaf (in Leesburg)
--Personal Essay: The Natural World, taught by Lisa Couturier
--Flash Fiction, taught by C.M. Mayo

See below for more details, or go directly to the Writer’s Center web site.

Writing for Children and Teens: The Magazine Markets
Writing for magazines read by children and teens is a great way to break into publishing and hone your literary skills. Using participants' works-in-progress, we'll explore ways to craft engaging stories and articles. In-class exercises will help get stalled projects back on track and generate ideas for future submissions. Our investigation into current markets for short fiction, nonfiction, humor, puzzles, crafts, and games will be tailored to participants' needs. Beginners are welcome. If you have a manuscript ready for review (maximum 10 double-spaced pages), please bring 12 copies to the first session. 6 sessions. No meeting 10/8)

Ellen R. Braaf: MS, freelancer, ghostwriter, reviewer, teacher, has published fiction, nonfiction, and humor for children and adults. Author of six science books for PowerKids Press, Ellen has been a columnist and feature writer for ASK magazine (Arts and Sciences for Kids) since it was launched by the Cricket Group and Smithsonian magazine in 2002. She serves as Mid-Atlantic Regional Advisor for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and as Co-chair of Northern Virginia Writers

Wednesdays, starting September 10, 7:30-10:00 p.m. (Leesburg)

Personal Essay: The Natural World
If Nature is life, then “nature writing” is writing about life in its many forms. For example, a “nature essay” (if we must call it that) about your garden / your hike up a mountain / your walk along the beach / or the vulture flying overhead, etc., will be as much about the exterior landscape as it is about your interior landscape. What are the meanings we gather from our experiences in the natural world? Why do we go there? How does nature connect to culture? How do the human, the environmental, and the personal intersect? In this workshop we will use writing prompts and writing assignments, as well as some examples from the instructor’s work, to understand the genre. We will look at aspects of craft: imagery, detail, figurative language, voice, character, conflict, setting, etc., and how all of this weaves together with storytelling, memoir, research, and narrative as we work on producing a piece of writing of about 4 or more pages long. We will submit this work-in-progress to the class as we move forward. We also will work on editing and revision, which often is the best part of writing. All levels of experience welcome. Several of my former students have gone on to publish in national anthologies and magazines (after many revisions of course!). 8 sessions

Lisa Couturier
is the author of The Hopes of Snakes & Other Tales from the Urban Landscape (Beacon, 2006), a collection of essays that explores the relationship between the human and the nonhuman. She holds a master’s degree in Literary Ecology from New York University and has worked as an environmental writer, a travel writer, and as articles editor for national magazines. Her articles and essays have appeared in Orion, Isotope, Tiferet, and other national magazines, anthologies, and literary journals. In 2006 she was listed as a notable essayist in Best American Essays. She is currently at work on a memoir about motherhood and horses. Couturier lives with her family in the Agricultural Reserve of Montgomery County, Maryland. Visit her website at www.lisacouturier.com

Wednesdays, starting October 1, 2008, from 7:30 to 10:00 p.m.

Flash Fiction
Flash, or micro-fictions are stories as short as six and as long as, say, 1,000 words. Though a genre with a distinguished tradition, flash fiction is perfectly suited for blogging and podcasting. For both beginning and advanced writers, this workshop will focus on improving your fiction-writing craft and generating new material. Suggested reading prior to the workshop: Dinty W. Moore, ed., Sudden Stories: The Mammoth Book of Miniscule Fiction. 1 session.

C.M. Mayo is the author of the forthcoming novel The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (Unbridled Books); Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico (Milkweed Editions), and Sky Over El Nido (University of Georgia Press), which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Her many other awards include three Lowell Thomas Awards for travel writing, three Washington Writing Prizes, and numerous fellowships, among them, to the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and Yaddo. Her work has appeared in many outstanding literary journals, among them, Chelsea, Creative Nonfiction, Kenyon Review, North American Review, Massachusetts Review, Paris Review, and Tin House. An avid translator of contemporary Mexican literature, she is also founding editor of Tameme and editor of Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion. For more about C.M. Mayo and her work, visit www.cmmayo.com.

Sunday, October 5, 1 pm to 4 pm (one session)

Details about all of these classes—and many more!—can be found here.

Monday, September 8, 2008

ISO The Perfect Agent

Agents…everyone always has questions about agents: whether they need one, how to find one, what it is they’re looking for, and on and on. I’m not sure there are actually definitive answers to these age-old questions, but here’s some additional insight for those of you on an agent search.

First, Editorial Ass explains here in detail why writers should never submit directly to publishers but should do the work (and take the time) to find an agent:

“If you have no agent--particularly if you are a fiction author--editors/publishers are going to assume you *couldn't get* an agent. This instantly knocks you to the sludgy, fetid, barnacle-encrusted bottom of the submissions barrel. Does your book deserve to be there?”

You might think you’re the exception, she says…but you’re probably not.

Okay, well then how to find the right agent? An important step is to educate yourself about the search process and to learn more about the agents out there (no matter how great your book is, if it’s a mystery and you send it to an agent that doesn’t represent mysteries, you are out of luck). To that end, you’d do well to read this guest post by Lindsay Reed Maines on Madam Mayo which suggests five excellent agent blogs:

“Like all writers, I've spent time deeply immersed in the voodoo art of finding a literary agent. While conventional wisdom always dictates researching them as carefully as possible, how exactly does one go about doing that? I mean, sure, you can look up their most recent sales on Publishers Marketplace, but what does that REALLY tell you about them?

“Oh, it's useful for specific, factual information, (yawn) but does it tell you who eats popcorn while reading submissions? Who hates being addressed as Ms.? Or any of the countless other proclivities one glimpses only through a window into another's mind? No. I think not.

"Enter: The Agent Blog. It's so refreshing to meet the humans behind the letters, and to see the passion that goes into the books they sell.”

Go here to see which agent blogs she recommends.

Like Lindsay Reen Maines, I, too, still mourn the end of agent blog Miss Snark, which deserves a spot in the Blog Hall of Fame!

Junot Diaz Reading: Highly Recommended

I saw Junot Diaz read from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao a year ago. He’s an excellent reader and in the Q&A afterwards offered a number of interesting insights about his writing process. And what a gracious book signer! You can read more of my impressions here. Or see for yourself on Wednesday, when he reads at Politics and Prose bookstore:

Wednesday, September 10, 7 p.m.

Díaz uses a mixture of Spanish and English to express the melting and melding that occurs when immigrants from the Dominican Republic meet New Jersey, USA. This splendid young Dominican-American writer has scored a home run with his zany, sweet, perceptive novel now appearing in paperback.

Politics and Prose Bookstore
5015 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008

Interview with New Writer's Center Director

DC-area writers may be interested in this interview with Charles Jensen, the new director of the Writer’s Center.

Here’s a teaser (if this doesn’t make you click over, nothing will!):

“KATCHUK: You’ve been with The Writer’s Center over a month now. How are you feeling about everything?

“JENSEN: It’s obviously been overwhelming entering an organization with a thirty-one-year history. I’m trying to internalize as much as possible as quickly as possible. Although, it only took about five minutes for me to figure out what needed to be changed or improved.”

To keep up-to-date on all the goings-on, be sure to check out the new Writer’s Center blog.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Guest in Progress: Robin Gaines

We’ve been bemoaning here and here the difficulties of escaping the pressures of life—and the internet—and finding ways to carve out the time and space we need to be creative. Here’s how writer Robin Gaines has tackled that problem and within her space, been able to recently complete her marvelous first book, Invincible Summers. Remember her name, please: you’ll be headed to the bookstore soon enough, looking for a copy of her book. I was fortunate enough to have read the manuscript in progress, and I can’t say enough nice things about her talent for creating evocative, complex characters who move through a fascinating time and setting (suburban Detroit in the late sixties and seventies). She’s a master at finding the exact word to illuminate a moment and infuse it with intensity. I very much enjoyed reading her work, and so I hope you enjoy her piece here:

I couldn't have finished my book, Invincible Summers, in this decade if I didn't have a writing space to go to everyday. Trying to think and write creatively while staring at piles of dirty laundry, or wondering again what that weird guy is picking out of the neighbor's trash, is difficult for me. Call me unfocused. Call me a writer who lives in one place and writes in another.

I used to write on deadline in a noisy, messy, uncivilized newsroom. My coworkers swore, threw things, smoked, told lewd (funny) jokes, and sometimes drank (after deadline, thank God), and it was in this atmosphere, day after day, that I was able to piece together some semblance of a story. What happened to that writer who possessed such stamina and fortitude in the midst of chaos and distractions galore?

Granted, there was no internet then to quiet us down. But writing fiction is a whole other animal than writing a feature story on acupuncture, or the latest legal drama ensuing with the mayor of Detroit (I live in Michigan). Creative writing comes to me through a different portal than nonfiction writing. And that special gateway needs my body to be sitting in a card table chair in front of my laptop in the dark, dank basement office of the Hidey Hole. This seems to be the only place where I get anything done "making stuff up" (my brother's definition of what I do with my time).

There are three of us who rent the space: Kathleen, a poet; Arthur, the retired college English professor who's working on a different project every week; and myself, the short story-cum-novel writer. Kathleen is the only one who calls our writing space the Hidey Hole. It's "the office" to everyone else. We pay $67 a month per person to the woman who owns the building. For this we get a 10x10 space with a tiny window covered by an overgrown bush. The door locks, but barely, so we never leave anything overnight but our writing table, chair, and lamp. Everything else is portable: laptop, books, files, lunch, coffee, etc. There is no internet or phone service and no one else around but us three to talk to and we're hardly ever at the office all at the same time anyway. The only issue we've had in the five years we've shared the space is whose turn it is to take the trash out. (Arthur usually forgets!!!) Those who've seen the space say we're getting ripped off. The writer in me thinks it's worth every penny and more.

The other basement office, located on the other side of the furnace/storage room, is rented by a therapist (funny how this seems so metaphorically perfect!), but her patients are mostly evening appointments. Occasionally, if I'm working late, I'll hear someone crying. Once, I heard bits and pieces of a heated argument between a couple and I wrote down every word I could decipher. I even thought about returning the following Thursday for more material, but didn't.

Above us are the anchor tenets. The dentist, Dr. Payne, occupies the area above our office, and Dr. Bliss, the oral surgeon, over the therapist's office. (These are their real names, I kid you not.) The walls are thin in our building so it took some time getting used to screaming kids and that awful buzzing from the drill. Now, we think and dream and write right through the torturous sounds. My subconscious thoughts are quicker to present themselves in this dark, underground environment where, most of the time, we don't know if it's raining, snowing, or sunny outside.

Parts of my novel-in-stories were written in other places: the lake house, a hotel room, on a ferry. Once, on a plane, I borrowed my daughter's math folder and wrote a chunk of a skydiving scene on the back of one of her tests. Sure, I've written okay stuff while in my house, but it never feels as authentic as the writing produced in the Hidey Hole. Maybe because it's there that Payne and Bliss coexist, and as every writer knows, that's what you go through writing one great sentence. ~~ Robin Gaines

About: Robin Gaines' stories have appeared in Oasis: A Literary Magazine; Porcupine; Spindrift; The Homestead Review; and are forthcoming in Willard & Maple. She's a former journalist and music features writer. She has just finished her first novel, Invincible Summers.

Sneak Preview: Joshua Henkin

In a couple weeks, thanks to author Joshua Henkin, this blog will be giving away a signed copy of his wonderful novel, Matrimony, to one lucky reader. In the meantime, you can check out his thoughts on topics such as writing dialogue and critic James Wood, as well as find out whether or not he’s the father of Bristol Palin’s love-child as he guest-blogs at one of my favorite internet destinations, The Elegant Variation. He’s already posted several items, and who knows how many more there will be, so I’ll just give the general link and you may have to do some scrolling.

I think he’ll be giving away copies of his book there, too, so don’t say I didn’t give you ample opportunity to get your hands on this excellent book. (Plus, the paperback is now in bookstores, so you could actually BUY it, you know!)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Work in Progress: Snip, Snip

I mentioned that “my summer vacation” has been spent waiting to hear about my novel and tackling a varied assortment of shorter-term writing projects. Within this random chaos, I’ve come up with a new writing trick that has been useful when revising and when creating new work:

When in doubt, cut.

It sounds simple—and probably it is; probably I’m a dunce for not figuring this out sooner—but it all became clear when I was revising an old story that I hadn’t looked at for at least two years. The bones were good, and I wanted to give it another try. Part of the problem with this story was that it was simply too long. These days your story has to be pretty spectacular to get a literary journal to hand over 30 pages to it…oh, and your last name also has to be Franzen or Updike or some such. So I started out knowing I wanted to cut, so that was a good point of departure.

But what to cut? Upon the first couple rereadings, everything in the story felt inter-related and impossible to cut. (A familiar feeling, perhaps?) It wasn’t as though I could trim pages and pages without affecting the storyline significantly.

Then I stopped looking at the big picture and went through paragraph by paragraph. And what I found was that on that level, it was much easier to find points where I could think, “What if this was gone?” I’d take it out and discover that I didn’t miss it and that the story didn’t really need it. (A lot of this was background and history that seemed so important until it wasn’t there.) Snip, snip—I hacked away more than five pages.

And my new mantra was surprisingly helpful when I was creating new work, too. I love revising, but first draft writing is very hard for me—there are always a thousand points where I wonder what I’m doing and find myself getting frustrated that things aren’t perfect and that I have absolutely no idea where the story is going. I’m sort of used to that—I guess it’s my “process”—though by far the hardest part is wondering “where is this story going.” When those doubts get too far, I find that where the story is going is exactly nowhere, because I’ve stopped writing, paralyzed.

But now—thanks to my new mantra—I step back and CUT. When I don’t know what happens next in the story, I simply retreat backward and take out the thing that just happened prior, whether it’s a line of dialogue or the elevator door opening. What if no one says anything? What if the elevator door DOESN’T open? It’s amazing—that simple trick usually works and shakes my mind out of paralysis and into seeing the possibility of what’s next. And there I am…moving forward again, hopefully stopping well before I get to page 30!

"I'll Take Zany Southern Writers for $500"

1. Which author, who met and mentored William Faulkner in New Orleans, agreed to recommend Faulkner’s first novel, Soldier’s Pay, to his publisher, provided he didn’t have to read it first?
a. Tennessee Williams
b. Sherwood Anderson
c. Scott Fitzgerald
d. Ernest Hemingway

From Maud Newton’s southern culture trivia quiz, with much more found here. The answer is b, Sherwood Anderson.

And another:

28. Anecdote contributed by writer/blogger Carrie Frye: Which North Carolina writer, when drunk, used to bite off pieces of his or her glass and chew on them?
a. Thomas Wolfe
b. Jill McCorkle
c. David Sedaris
d. Allan Gurganus

Yikes. It’s a, Thomas Wolfe...hope he had an excellent dentist.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Internet: Friend or Foe, Part 2

Last week I wrote about the siren song of the internet and how hard it can be to focus on work when there are all those important web sites about cats, the corn cam, and “Mad Men.” Jim Kendrall, a writer currently in the Master of Arts in Writing Program at Johns Hopkins, offered some additional suggestions about places to go that may help keep your writing front and center:

--“University Library: I’m fond of the American University library [in DC]. I’ve always been able to find a quiet spot. There’s something about a university campus that makes me, well, thoughtful. The downside for me is the thirty-minute commute (during non-peak traffic times). My laptop has no wireless capability but, alas, I need to remove the chess game.

--“The car: Nothing like sitting in a perfectly quiet car off in the corner of some parking lot. Maybe a coffee in the cup holder. So maybe a parking lot near a Starbucks somewhere. Get a power cord for the laptop that fits in the cigarette lighter. Shut off the cell phone. For extra room sit in the passenger seat. Zero distractions. So quiet you can hear yourself think. And, you can read out loud or talk to yourself if you want to. A car stays pretty warm in chilly weather.

--“In the dead of winter, at home: But late, late at night. The whole world is sleeping, just you and your tap-tapping on a non-internet connected laptop. Hit the sack at three or four a.m. Then sleep in.”

I love the idea of writing in the car. There’s a park I like to go to sometimes where I can park and look out at the river. Yes, of course you can get out of the car, but I’ve noticed I’m not the only one who prefers sitting in the car instead. And, no, sorry—I’m not telling where this park is; there aren’t that many parking places!

Jim also added this interesting bit of advice: “Okay, this one’s a little weird, but on the subject of distractions, sometimes I find, that when I’m typing, the very appearance of the words on the screen is distracting. I think it has to do with my lack of patience to stay out of edit mode. So, when that happens, I reduce the font to some imperceptible size so all I see are fuzzy dots. That way I can remain in the writing dream state and still see out of the corner of my eye that I’m actually capturing text.”

And there was this bit in the recent interview with Tova Mirvis on Paper Cuts. I’m certain that the sudden need to click over to the internet—like the sudden need to run to the kitchen and unload the dishwasher—is related to a hard moment in the writing, and the best way to get through a hard moment is to keep going:

"How much time — if any — do you spend on the Web? Is it a blessing or a distraction?

"Hours, hours, hours, and almost entirely distraction. For a long time, I didn’t sign up for wireless, so that I could write in the disconnected upstairs of our house without being able to check my e-mail. Having to go downstairs to plug my computer in was enough to keep my temptation in check; I’d parcel out those forays downstairs and online as a reward for a few hours of solid work. Eventually I succumbed to wireless and now it’s a constant battle. For practical matters and specific information, and for communicating with people you don’t really feel like talking to, who can argue with the Web’s prowess? But usually when I’m online, I don’t have a specific purpose. I’m looking for something to be looking for. Or I’m hoping to stumble on a salve for whatever anxiety or restlessness has sent me there in the first place. Sometimes when I’m frustrated with my writing, I’ll google the names of my characters, or random words or ideas from my novel and see what I find, as though the search engine is powerful enough to turn up what exists in my mind and which I can’t yet access."

James River Conference in Richmond

Here’s a quick reminder about the James River Conference down in Richmond, Virginia…looks like a great line-up of diverse speakers:

Conference 2008 - Get it Write

Conference 2008 offers the inside story on the art, the craft, and the business of writing, bringing together critically-lauded and bestselling authors along with some of the writing world's best editors, agents, and more, all in an intimate setting at the Library of Virginia.

Friday - Saturday, October 10 & 11, 2008
The Library of Virginia
800 East Broad Street

David Baldacci, New York Times Bestselling Author
Adriana Trigiani, Big Stone Gap
Diane Mott Davidson, bestselling author of culinary mysteries
Claudia Emerson, Pulitzer Prize winning poet
Kate Jacobs, author of New York Times best-seller The Friday Night Knitting Club
Kirk Ellis, screenplay, HBO's John Adams
Shannon Ravenel, editor, Algonquin Books
Chuck Adams, editor, Agonquin Books
Colin Fox, editor, Simon & Schuster

First Pages Critique
One-on-One with an Agent
New this year! One-on-One with a PR team

General Registration, after September 1: $155
After October 1: one-day tickets, $85/day if seats remain available.
More information and online reservation

Monday, September 1, 2008

My New & Exciting Writer's Center Classes

Just a quick reminder that the Writer’s Center Open House will be this Saturday (September 6), from noon to three p.m. in Bethesda. Details here. Hope to see you there!

I will be teaching two NEW & EXCITING classes this fall (as opposed to the “old & boring” classes I usually teach—ha, ha). Please pass along this information to anyone who may be interested:

Set Your Prose Free Through Collage: A One-Night Workshop

Get a fresh view on your fiction, memoir, and/or poetry through the imaginative use of collage and found objects. This hands-on, exercise-intensive, free-flowing, intimate workshop is appropriate for beginners looking for inspiration and for intermediate writers who might be feeling a bit stuck with their project…and everyone in-between! Participants should be prepared to do lots of writing—please bring a pen/pencil (unfortunately, a computer will not be effective here). Note: Due to the nature of this class, we must limit the class size to 15. You’ll be surprised at what you may discover in only one night!

Thursday, October 16, 2008
7 PM to 10:00 PM

Note: This is similar to a collage class that I tried out at the Writers at the Beach Conference, that if I do say so myself, ended up being a remarkable experience. You can read more about it here.

Registration and details can be found here.

Flex Your Creative Muscles! A One-Day Workshop

Spend the afternoon doing a series of intensive, guided exercises designed to shake up your brain and get your creative subconscious working for you. You can come with a project already in mind and focus your work toward a deeper understanding of that—or you can come as a blank slate (that will quickly fill up!). Fiction writers and memoirists of all levels are welcome. Please bring lots of paper and pen/pencil or a computer with a fully charged battery. Note: This class will not repeat any of the instructor’s previous exercises, so feel free to attend even if you’ve taken one of her classes before!

Sunday, October 26, 2008
12:30 PM to 5:30 PM

Registration and more information are found here.


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