Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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

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

Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Coffee & Tea

I Didn't Need to See This

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Crazyhorse, I'm Talking to You

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

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

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

Gatsby Book Club

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

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

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

Entries must be submitted by December 31, 2008

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither Snow, Nor Rain...

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

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

Escape Your Writing Routine

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

I Feel So Special

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

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

Check out your own name here.

Your "Beautiful Collection of Lyrical Linked Stories"

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

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

Read more here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Guest in Progress: Gail Langer Karwoski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thanksgiving Menu

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

Good Deals at Crazyhorse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High School Poetry Contest

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

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

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

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

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

Provincetown Fine Arts Center Application Deadline Looms

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

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

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

The application is straightforward. For details, please visit

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

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

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

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

More here.

Apply for Free Community Workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

Poetry Critique Group

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

Upcoming Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Guest in Progress: Carollyne Hutter

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

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

Teens on My Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Some Form of Punishment"

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

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

Here’s the post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slate: ISO Writers & Managing Editor for New Magazine

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Canadian Idol

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

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

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

Brave New World, Literary Journal-Style

Check out this literary journal on YouTube! And then submit some of your short work:

Shape of a Box, a YouTube literary magazine, is seeking submissions in all genres. We are seeking work that is around 500 words, but we are flexible and desire work that is under 5 minutes if read out loud.Your submission should be pasted into the body of the email and sent to

Please check out additional details at or check out the three issues of the magazine are already live and available for viewing here. We look forward to reading your work!

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Only Slightly Dead"

As you probably heard, mega-author Michael Crichton died last week. I thought this reminiscence on the Washington Post’s book blog was funny and shows that readers will find ways to go with the writer, as long as the story is good and the writer is bold:

“…Crichton, a physician turned author who died of cancer this week at age 66, was a master of narrative structure. Fans loved the way he mixed fact (especially science) into his fiction. Hollywood loved his action-packed, potboiler plots. But structure and pacing are paramount in Crichton's novels, and everything else -- plausibility, characterization -- is subservient.

“Here's a small example: In Jurassic Park (the book, not the movie) the mathematician Ian ("I hate being right") Malcolm dies. But when Jurassic Park became a colossal success and Crichton sat down to write a sequel, The Lost World, he knew he needed Malcolm back, if only to explain the science. So Crichton simply revived him. As our review noted at the time, the ludicruously shallow explanation -- 'but as it turned out I was only slightly dead,' Malcolm says -- showed 'splendid panache on the author's part.'"

32 Poems ISO Intern

Here’s your chance to gain valuable experience in the glamorous world of literary journals. Note that you may telecommute; you don’t have to live in the DC area. Here’s the announcement:

32 Poems is looking for 1-2 extra sets of hands to help us grow.The 32 Poems intern could help with any of the items below that looks interesting:

--planning readings (best if you live in large metro area);
--creating concept for new renewal postcards (graphic designer would do the actual design work);
--sending out renewal postcards;
--creating concept for new subscription postcards (graphic designer would do the actual design work);
--building or updating website;
--contributing to blog with interesting posts;
--photographing or taking video of 32 poems events;
--reading poems sent in via online system;
--manning 32 Poems table at AWP for a few hours each day;
--inventing interactive ways to engage with people at AWP conference;
--using web 2.0 tools to create community.

If you are already familiar with 32 Poems, you are welcome to suggest an area we need to work on and to explain how your skills would help with that. Please send a cover letter explaining your experience in 1-2 of the areas above to Please do not send a resume or any attachments at this time. If you know how to make video, you are welcome to make a video explaining your experience. In that case, just send the link. Please also put "32 Poems intern" in the subject line.

You can find out more about 32 Poems at these sites:
32 Poems Magazine

Support the President-Elect? Enter this Ode Contest

Be part of history by writing an Inaugural Ode. Details:

Write an inaugural ode, suitable for reading aloud on January 20, 2009. It must consist of sixteen lines broken into four quatrains, rhyme scheme optional. The ode must include one line lifted from a poem in The Best American Poetry 2008 or from the book's foreword or introduction, and it must also include at least three of the following words: honor, integrity, faith, hope, change, power.

The contest will be judged by a former Best American Poetry guest editor whose name will be revealed when the winner is announced.

PRIZES: The winning poet's name will be announced on the Best American Poetry website and The Best American Poetry blog. The winning poem will be posted on the website. The winner of the contest will receive a cloth bound copy of The Best American Poetry 2008, autographed by the series editor and several contributors, as well as other books, courtesy of Scribner. The winner will also receive a broadside of the winning poem created by artist Jenny Grassl.


HOW TO ENTER: Your poem must be typed in Times New Roman 12 pt. The line from The Best American Poetry 2008 should appear in the poem as well as at the bottom of the page with its source noted. Send your poem as a Word attachment to an e-mail to

Write "Poetry Contest" in the subject line, and include the title of your poem along with your name, address, e-mail address, and telephone number in the body of the e-mail. The title of your poem should be in the body of the e-mail and on the attachment with your poem. Do not put your name or other identifying information on the attachment. Any submission that reveals the poet's identity on the attachment will be disqualified.

The deadline for entry is midnight, eastern standard time, December 5, 2008.

RULES: Any U.S. resident age eighteen or over can enter, except employees of Scribner, the Best American Poetry website manager and designer, the contest Judge (s), and faculty of The New School Writing Program, or any member of their immediate family. Entries that are lost, late, misdirected, garbled, or incompletely received, for any reason, including by reason of hardware, software, browser, or network failure, malfunction, congestion, or incompatibility at the website or elsewhere, will not be eligible. The contest sponsor in its sole discretion, reserves the right to disqualify any person tampering with the entry process, the operation of the website, or otherwise in violation of the rules. It further reserves the right to cancel, terminate, or modify thecontest not capable of completion as planned, including infection by computer virus, bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, force majeure, or technical failures of any sort.

The winner will be notified by e_mail or telephone. If the winner cannot be reached or does not respond within three (3) days, an alternate winner may be selected, at the sole discretion of the Judge(s).

Subject to all federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Void outside the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, and where prohibited.

The Prize is not transferable. There will be no substitutions of the prizes except by the Sponsor and at the Sponsor's discretion. All entries become the property of the Sponsor and will not be acknowledged or returned. Except where prohibited: (i) acceptance of the Prize constitutes consent to use winner's name, likeness, and winning entry for editorial, advertising, and publicity purposes, without further compensation; (ii) winner may be required to sign an affidavit of eligibility and copyright transfer/liability/publicity/permission release. Affidavits and releases must be returned within thirty (30) days of attempted notification or an alternate winner may be chosen.

This contest is entirely the work of the Best American Poetry web site and blog management and has no relation to the campaign organization and transition team of President-elect Barack Obama or to any project thereof.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Work in Progress: Rejection Stories

Writers are a hopelessly hopeful lot. How else to explain the cycle of bleeding out a perfect, heartfelt story/poem/essay, sending it out to a journal, getting it rejected with an impersonal three inch by four inch preprinted slip of paper, and…sending it out again! And again. And again. It defies logic.

Yet, every writer who’s been around the block has a few rejection stories, some hopeful and some that serve only to illustrate the idiocy of certain editors. I thought I’d share a few of my more hopeful stories:

Years ago, I wrote a story called “The Invisible Hand” that sprung from a famous exercise, “write about the worst thing you ever did.” (What I like about this exercise is that “worst thing” doesn’t necessarily end up being a vividly dramatic horrible thing you did, but something that has eaten away at you nevertheless. You can read more about this exercise and a resulting famous [and excellent] short story here.)

So, I was pretty pleased with “The Invisible Hand,” and I sent it off two excellent magazines (you know the ones I mean!), and got a nice note back from one. Then I decided to send it to a prestigious literary journal that I liked, where I had been previously published, where I knew the editor. I mailed in on April 28 and got a nice letter (not from my editor-friend) on May 12.

Okay…more journals, more letters, but ultimately, more rejections.

Then I got a phone call in late October. From my editor-friend at The Iowa Review. He had “found” my story on his desk and loved it. Could they publish it?


I don’t believe I ever mentioned that this story had been rejected already by the journal, especially when this story was selected as one of the “100 Distinguished Stories” in that year’s edition of Best American Short Stories.

I wrote a short story called “Shortcuts,” about four generations of Polish-American women making pierogi. Again, I was pretty happy with this piece and as an added advantage, it was shorter than most of my stories so I thought I might be able to place it fairly quickly.

Again, I sent it to some of “those” magazines, and again, I got a couple of nice notes. Then I revised it, and started in on the literary journals. Some more nice notes. Then I revised it again.

I was really moving through my list of literary journals. By this time I had sent this story to 21 different journals and contests, and three years had passed.

One Saturday, someone knocked at the door: the mail carrier. “Sign here for certified mail,” and he handed me a large, unexpected envelope.

Inside the envelope was
--a letter telling me my story “Shortcuts” had been selected as the winner of the University of Alaska Southeast Fiction Contest,
--copies of the journal with my story already published, and
--a check for $500.

Also, this story became the first chapter to my novel, Pears on a Willow Tree, and a selection I often read to audiences who often tell me how much they enjoyed hearing it.

So, I think you can guess the lesson for today: send out your work! Yes, again, and again, and again. And then one more time.

November 7: "Making It Out of the Slush Pile"

Here’s information on an intriguing event sponsored by the Writer’s Center:

Northern Virginia Writers First Friday: Making It Out of the Slush Pile

Get a behind-the-scenes look at how a book gets sold--and what makes it saleable--this Friday in Leesburg.

Editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler of Grove/Atlantic Inc., one of the premier independent publishers in the country, and his wife, agent Jenni Ferrari-Adler of Brick House Literary Agents, will provide an inside view of the pitching and acquisition process by role-playing the mock sale of a book.

Date: November 7, 2008
Time: 7:30 - 9:30p.m.
Place: Leesburg Town Hall, 25 W. Market St., Leesburg, VA 20176

Cost: $4 for members of The Writer's Center and residents of Leesburg; $6 for the general public.

To register for this event:
or call 301.654.8664.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Best American Short Stories 2008: "The Sense That It Had to Be Written"

Every year I dutifully buy a copy of the new Best American Short Stories, and every year my experience pretty much goes like this:

--First, of course, I go through a period of bitterness when I don’t find my name—or the names of my friends—anywhere in the book.

--Then I glance through the Table of Contents and recognize at least half (usually more) of the authors as “famous” (by writers’ low-bar terms)

--I recognize about half of the stories as ones I’ve already read in The New Yorker

--one or two stories I remember reading with immense fondness; the rest are sort of, "huh?"

--The non-New Yorker stories are virtually all from a handful of “big” journals or The Atlantic

--I read some of the stories by authors I haven’t heard of, and have more of the “huh?” reaction

--I find one, maybe two, transcendent stories and make a note to remember those authors and actively seek out their work

This year, however, I had a slightly different experience. I thought the choice of Salman Rushdie as guest editor was interesting…after all, as he notes in his introduction, he isn’t even American! And I’m no expert on his work, but surely he’s better known for novels instead of short stories. I worried that there might be too many of those stories I am weary of, in which the colorful, “exotic” international setting is the only quality the editor seems to have considered in selecting the story, the plot and characters of which wouldn’t pass muster if the story were set in the boring old U.S. So I was curious to see what sort of spin Rushdie might bring to the process.

One immediate difference I noticed is that of the twenty selected, there are only three stories from the New Yorker (one I remember with fondness, George Saunders’ “Puppy”). And yes, Harper’s Magazine and The Atlantic are well-represented, but the other journal choices seem more diverse than usual: Ecotone, Crazyhorse, Shenandoah, The Antioch Review, and some other familiar ones.

Eight writers are what I consider “famous” (a subjective term, of course), so it seemed there were more newcomers than usual, and I started with their stories. It’s all subjective, obviously, but I thought the stories I read for the most part were incredibly well-crafted and remarkable in terms of unique subject matter and voice. These were not your stereotypical “MFA stories,” and it was inspiring to read them. Instead of one or two authors to watch for, I have a list. After dipping around in the book, I would happily recommend this edition, and I don’t often feel that way.

Here are my favorite stories thus far, and I have a few more dog-eared to read:

--“Man and Wife,” by Katie Chase, from The Missouri Review

--“Virgins,” by Danielle Evans, from The Paris Review

--“The Worst You Ever Feel” by Rebecca Makkai, from Shenandoah

--“Quality of Life,” by Christine Sneed, from New England Review

--“Straightaway,” by Mark Wisniewski, from The Antioch Review

Also of note, series editor Heidi Pitlor says that they will be considering online fiction for inclusion. And of the twenty stories, ten were written by men, and ten by women.

Is the lesson for me to read more journals and maybe less of The New Yorker? Or is it to thank Mr. Rushdie, who culled through 120 stories to get to these (can’t even imagine how many stories the series editor reads!!)?

And what about my own writing; are there lessons for me to take away as I work on my own stories? As Rushdie noted in his introduction to the collection:

“Old-fashioned naturalism was the dominant manner this year, and creative writingese, I have to say, was often in evidence. There were so many stories that were well observed, well crafted, full of well-honed phrases; so many rhythmic, allusive, technically sophisticated stories that knew when to leave matters unresolved and when it was right to bring events to a dramatic climax; so many stories that had everything one could wish for in a story…except for the sense that it had to be written, that it was necessary. This was what I had expected and perhaps feared: a widespread, humorless, bloodless competence.

“But there were many compensating treasures, and, in the end riches to choose from….”

Obligatory Post-Election Post

Yay, Commonwealth of Virginia! Guess all those phone calls I complained about yesterday accomplished something.

Essay Contest for High School Students

In this economy, who couldn’t use a $25K scholarship to college? –

The Maltz Museum STOP THE HATE! YOUTH SPEAK OUT! ESSAY CONTEST will award a tuition scholarship to an Ohio college/university of up to $25,000 per year (renewable for four years) to one 11th or 12th grade winner. Other prizes for students in grades 6-12 as originally announced will remain in place. Entry deadline for 500 word essays is Dec. 5. Extensive guidelines at

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What Does Your Work Space Look Like?

I was interested in these photos that writers sent in to Poets & Writers of their work space, perhaps because my work space is so lame. The introduction to these pictures notes, “The creative habitats captured in these images reflect each writer's unique approach to finding inspiration, motivation, and focus.”

I thought I’d share my “unique approach,” by listing some of the highlights amidst the confusion of pens and scraps of paper:

--a lovely herd of four tiny stretchy horses that are fun to play with and pull in various directions when frustrated.

--a Ken Dryden hockey card (a legendary goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, and author of The Game, an excellent book about hockey).

--a couple dozen packs of Extra gum that I chew obsessively in a failing attempt to keep from snacking while I write.

--Burt’s Bees hand sanitizer that I spray on my hands from time to time not because my area is germ-infested (to my knowledge) but because I like the smell.

--an three minute hourglass which is, I think, supposed to be for cooking eggs but that I use on occasion to make myself feel guilty for wasting time (visually watching it trickle away, you know)

--a plastic pen shaped like a musket that I bought in the excellent gift shop at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

--three stretchy lizards that stick to the wall without leaving a mark (at least not yet)

--a bank calendar because I didn’t get it together to find an appropriate art calendar last year

--a photograph from the Library of Congress collection of a man using tongs to dredge oysters from the Chesapeake Bay

--a Berenice Abbott photo, “Newsstand,” which I could stare at endlessly, though the placard that promises “double rich malted milk with Horton’s Ice Cream 10 cents” makes me grab for another piece of gum.

What’s on your desk? Share your secrets…send me your list!

Obligatory Election Post

Oh, is there an election today? I guess I wouldn’t have known except that we got no fewer than THREE phone calls yesterday from campaign volunteers eager to remind us. I won’t tally up all the calls in the last week—a high number indeed. In the “be careful what you wish for” category, I have always wanted to live in a “battleground state” that candidates actually care about, and now that I do, UNCLE already!

Yes, I’m voting; yes, I know my polling place; no, I don’t need help getting there…so please stop calling me.

I hope volunteers will be equally enthusiastic about helping their candidates clear away the unattractive clutter of campaign signs along the roads after the election.

On the less cranky side, I am always mindful that people in this country and throughout the world have died in the struggle to get the right to vote, and voting is a responsibility to take seriously. After even the most minor election, I’m one of those dorks who wears my “I voted” sticker around all day.

UPDATE: If you love the "I voted" stickers as I do, be sure to check out Hank Stuever's Washington Post article extolling their virtues and the important bonding experience of voting on Election Day: "[The sticker] says you stood in a school cafeteria or a branch library or a community center gymnasium this morning or this afternoon, or you'll stand there tonight after work, and it says that you stood there because you thought of yourself as no less noble (and no more important) than anyone else. These days, that's huge. You voiced your opinion while also remaining part of a "we." You took your turn. It's the opposite of "The Amazing Race." It's the amazing wait."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Spiffing Up the Place

I’ve added a few new stops to my literary blogroll and secret obsessions, so please look over those lists (I especially recommend the cat pictures and the astronomy picture of the day). I also added some useful resources for writers as well as information about where I teach.

And just to remind you, if you like what you’re reading here, you can subscribe to get the posts delivered to you on a daily basis through email. Just look over to the left, under “subscribe”: there are all sorts of options--sure to please even the computer geeks--but if you’re mystified, simply go to the box where you enter your email address. E-Z!


This is okay, because it’s “intellectual” procrastination: check out this fabulous collection of 25 optical illusions and mind-bending visuals. Number 15, is the dancing woman who will tell you if your right brain (creative side) is stronger, or your left (logical) is more powerful…so see, this is actually related to writing! (Number 2, the rotated Mona Lisas, is pretty cool, too.)


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