Thursday, December 18, 2008

Work in Progress: Distracted Holiday Edition

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


I’ll leave you with some odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

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

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

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

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

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

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

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

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

and are we not of interest to each other?

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hardcover vs. Paperback Original

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


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

$3000 Scholarship for DC-Area Polish-American Students

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

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

For information and application form see the PAAA web page at

Phillip Lopate Coming to Writer's Center

Mark your calendars for this event:

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Newbery Books = Death of Reading?

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

Could this be true? Read more here.

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

Money for Nothing, Books for Free

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

Two Essay Contests for College Students

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

2009 Sylvia K. Burack Scholarship Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--Number each page. Paperclip the pages together.

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

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

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

***** 2008 Scholarship Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

More on Submitting Work (Obsessive Edition)

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Be the Perfect Blog Guest

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Guest in Progress: Carollyne Hutter

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

Resources for YA Writing
by Carollyne Hutter

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

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


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


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

Books (writing books and YA novels)

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

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

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

Teen World

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

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

Teens and Technology

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pick Your Poison

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Joe the Plumber: Not a Plumber, Not a Writer

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest here.

Potomac Review Fiction Contest Now Accepting Entries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deadline: Postmarked December 1st-March 15th.

Winners announced April 15th, 2009

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

Entries that do not follow contest guidelines will be disqualified

Please direct all contest questions to: Details at

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

Mark Your Calendars for January Publishing Workshop

Mark your calendars:

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

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

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

Monday, December 8, 2008

ISO Writers Born Between 1960-1982

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

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

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

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

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

Query Letter Workshop: Register Now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 4, 2008

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

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

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

Here’s an excerpt from Penkov’s note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your own writing today feel like a terrifying blessing.

The Sky Really Is Falling!

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

Here are some good places to go for more details:

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

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please Don't Reject My Rejection

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

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

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

ISO Polish, Polish-American Poetry

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In For Another Dollar

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


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

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

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

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

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

Contests for Virginia Writers

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

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, December 1, 2008

Washington Post Publication: "Death Notice"

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

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

If you're interested, the link is here.

In for a Dime, In for a Dollar

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

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

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

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

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

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


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