Thursday, February 26, 2009

Guest in Progress: Judy Leaver, Part III

The conclusion of Judy Leaver's wrap-up of her experience at the 2009 Key West Literary Seminar....

A Key West Literary Seminar Retrospective: Part III
“Maneuvering the Poem,” continued

By Judy Leaver

“Maneuvering” followed a traditional workshop format. Each of us was instructed ahead of time to bring three poems to be critiqued over the three days. In addition, Collins gave us exercises that focused on the spare, yet astonishing form used by William Carlos Williams, a writer and pediatrician who wrote and practiced in New Jersey in the early 1900s. Our homework was to ‘copy’ the exact form—same title, exact line length, same punctuation or lack of, and number of syllables/per line--of this Williams poem:

This Is Just To Say*

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Mine looked like this:

This Is Just To Say

I drank the last
slushee in
the freezer

though I
knew you were counting
on it
tonight, but

I needed
it more than you did
so crisp
so calming

This exercise is great fun and helps you laser in on every syllable, every line. It is a helpful way for a writer to focus on the form of a poem, and not just its content. Try it yourself with this Williams poem:


As the cat
climbed over
the top of

the jamcloset
first the right

then the hind
stepped down

into the pit of
the empty

I can clearly see one of my cats doing this! And that was Williams’ point. He wanted his poetry to "escape from crude symbolism, the annihilation of strained associations, complicated ritualistic forms designed to separate work from reality". Hear! Hear! Collins’ poetry is similar in that respect. He stresses the value of using quiet language, the language of things, invoking Emerson who said that the language of things is sufficient.

Collins suggested a number of books that are excellent primers for poets, regarding the issue of form especially. My two favorites are Rules of the Dance by Mary Oliver and Best Words/Best Order by Steven Dobyns.

*Both poems can be found in The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. 1 1909-1939.

About: Judy Leaver, M.A. has worked as a professional writer for nearly 9 years, following a 20-year career in social work and mental health advocacy. Her creative writing includes poetry, essays, short stories, and untold vignettes that appear to be pointing the way to a memoir. She has participated in a writing group that is fourteen years strong, and in the spring of 2004 was selected to participate in the Jenny McKean Moore Community Workshop at George Washington University, under the tutelage of poet, Rick Barot. In January of this year she participated in “Maneuvering the Poem”, a workshop with former Poet Laureate, Billy Collins in Key West, FL. Her work has been published in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. She guest-blogged here in April of 2008.

WC&C Scholarship Competition

Writers’ Conferences & Centers is conducting its annual competition to provide scholarships for writers who wish to attend a writers’ conference, center, retreat, or residency. The scholarships will be applied to fees to attend any of the over 90 members of WC&C, an association of outstanding conferences, centers, retreats, and festivals for writers.

The deadline for the WC&C Competition is March 30, 2009. Two scholarships of $500 will be awarded. To enter the competition, please follow the guidelines listed on our website:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Guest in Progress: Judy Leaver, Part II

A Key West Literary Seminar Retrospective: Part II
"Maneuvering the Poem"

By Judy Leaver

“The truth is, nobody cares about your poetry or the narcissism that may drive it.” With that, Billy Collins launched his “Maneuvering the Poem” workshop for 14 good-to-astounding poets in Key West January 12-15, 2009. His remark actually made us all relax. He also indicated that each of us has at least 500 bad poems in us. (See Judy count her poems quickly.) These opening remarks were said with such good humor, we took him seriously.

Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate (2001 and 2002), has made poetry ‘cool’ by keeping his reader front and center as he composes ironic, yet poignant verse that appeals to a broad cross section of the public. He has written several books of poetry—many on bestseller lists! The most recent is Ballistics, released in 2008. Poets & Writers magazine published a cover story, “Billy Collins: Poetry for the People”, in its September/October 2008 edition. (see

The evening before the workshop began, Collins gave a reading before a standing room only crowd of 200+. This rock start status just doesn’t happen to poets! Nevertheless, he read for at least an hour in a way that was self-deprecating, charming and funny. The depth of his poetry might best be described by the differing response to his poem, “The Lanyard.” When I read this poem on my own at home, I cried. He read it to this audience and everyone howled with laughter. What’s your reaction?

The Lanyard
(from The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems, Random House, 2005)

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Back to the workshop. Imaginative freedom is what Collins looks for in poems. His mantra is that poetry offers us the highest degree of freedom of any writing form. You don’t have to worry about logic or chronology. You have freedom to change directions. There’s no such thing as distraction/diversion in a poem. In fact, an imaginative poet may want to follow that distraction—that side road—and see where it leads. A poem will be seeking its own limits. “Poetry is harder than writing.” Nevertheless, it needs to be accessible to the reader.

Despite this deceptively laissez faire way of thinking about and teaching poetry, Collins is hard-core about the importance of form in a poem. “Poetry is about giving pleasure to the reader through form.” He is consistently focused on the relationship between a writer and a reader. Like any relationship, it must be imbedded in trust. And trust is related to tonal authority. Do I trust this voice? (Yes, poems have a voice, like other literary genres.) If a poem is too obscure or hard to understand, it will alienate the reader and lead to distrust, which is only a step away from losing interest and moving on…quickly. Consider the fact that (back in my day) most high school English classes imposed Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales on the students. Might that be directly related to the general lack of excitement about poetry for most adults today? Collins (who is Distinguished Professor of English at Lehman College of the City University of New York) says he starts with contemporary poetry and works his way backward to Chaucer.

When Collins talked about the importance of form and its evolution, he made the point that Walt Whitman removed the poetry training wheels of meter and rhyme, so the bike/poem could go on its own. But there is danger in losing the system of trust that needs to exist between poet and reader. When we hear, “Whose woods these are I think I know…” we can relax into this poem because the form is there and it is familiar.

Haiku, in Collins’ opinion, is a good example of the tension between self-expression and form. You must negotiate with the haiku--it is indifferent to you but wants you to follow the rules—three lines in 17 syllables. True haiku does not use simile, comparison or metaphor. Eastern poetry is direct. You won’t see the use of ‘like’ in a haiku.

Barring insufferable arrogance, it can be assumed that a poet doesn’t intend to alienate a reader. Collins, in his gently humorous way, indicated that so much may have already taken place in the poet’s head before the words reach the page, the reader is left clueless. He advises backing up the poem so the reader travels with you, and understands how you got ‘there.’ He used a poker game as a metaphor. The poet has to turn over enough cards to provide clues, but not so many that he gives away the farm. Start with a lanyard and move to feelings about your mother.

About: Judy Leaver, M.A. has worked as a professional writer for nearly 9 years, following a 20-year career in social work and mental health advocacy. Her creative writing includes poetry, essays, short stories, and untold vignettes that appear to be pointing the way to a memoir. She has participated in a writing group that is fourteen years strong, and in the spring of 2004 was selected to participate in the Jenny McKean Moore Community Workshop at George Washington University, under the tutelage of poet, Rick Barot. In January of this year she participated in “Maneuvering the Poem”, a workshop with former Poet Laureate, Billy Collins in Key West, FL. Her work has been published in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. She guest-blogged here in April of 2008.

ISO Food Poems

What could be better than combining food and poetry as this call for submissions does?

Call for menupoems!

April is National Poetry Month, and Alimentum will once again publish a poetry broadside of menupoems for National Poetry Month.

The poems are distributed to participating restaurants for diners to enjoy some poetry with their menu!

We need your poems! Only about a dozen poems will be selected.

Here are the guidelines:
Short menu-dining-food- related poems.
12-line length limit.
3-poem submission limit.
Deadline--March 4th, 2009.
Email submission to

IMPORTANT- poems must be pasted into the body of the email, no attachments.

To see some menupoem examples check the archive on our Alimentum Online website page:

ATTENTION Restaurants (or do you have a favorite restaurant?):
Participate by giving your diners menupoems during National Poetry Month.
We'll ship you a stack, and post your name and address on our website throughout April. Participation is free! Write to let us know if you'd like to take part in the menupoem party! Email:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Martin Moran to Appear at the Writer's Center

Martin Moran, acclaimed Broadway actor and author of The Tricky Part: One Boy’s Fall from Trespass into Grace, a story of sexual abuse and its aftermath, will bring his award-winning one-man show based on the book to The Writer’s Center. It’ll be a unique event that merges a reading and a performance. He has recently been nominated for a Helen Hayes Award (outstanding lead actor, non-resident production) for his performance of the show at Signature Theatre. Visit the book’s Web site for additional details:

When: Monday, March 2, 2009 at 7:30 P.M.
Where: The Writer’s Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. 301.654.8664.
General admission: $10 ($15 for nonmembers)
More info:

Guest in Progress: Judy Leaver, Part 1

Thanks to Judy Leaver for this wonderful report about the Key West Literary Seminar!

A Key West Literary Seminar Retrospective: Part I
By Judy Leaver

This is a flat-out plug for the Key West Literary Seminar (KWLS), having just wrapped up its 27th bonanza this past January. KWLS is a pricey--$495 for registration alone--but stunning way to get to Key West in the winter, and (if you’re a writer) legitimately write some of your expenses off. You will be treated to a tropical potpourri of literary braininess, soothing sunshine, joyous sunsets, the ghost of Hemingway and progeny of his six-toed cats, noisy roosters claiming the right of way, hedonism hunters, social dropouts and aging hippies. An island where a gas station is the place to buy absolutely the best fried chicken you’ve ever tasted. The southernmost tip of the United States where people eat key lime pie on a stick. Or have shrimp and grits for breakfast at the Blue Heaven Restaurant sitting outside under the trees while roosters and cats stroll around underfoot.

Key West is home either full or part time for a number of writers, making the annual literary seminar an easy ‘draw’ for the literati, and a captive audience who will buy their books. This year’s theme was “Historical Fiction and the Search for Truth.” Novelist Allan Gurganus’ conviction that “We need history so much, we historians and novelists, we keep making it up. And history returns the favor," suggests the zany but serious nature of the theme’s exploration. (Gurganus is the author of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.)

Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of March and People of the Book, opened the 2009 literary blockbuster by saying, "You don't have to be a necrophiliac to write historical novels, but it helps." Brooks noted that she loves graveyards and was encouraged to move to Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, fellow writer Tony Horwitz, by one gravestone with the inscription "At Last, A Fulltime Resident."

The annual three-and-a-half day seminar is targeted to an audience of readers who, in the two years I’ve attended, are mostly white and retired, with money and time to attend. I am not retired, so it’s a financial stretch for me, but I rationalize it as an investment in my writing and reading. Be warned—the seminar is so intellectually stimulating, your head may explode.

The main seminar action takes place at the stately San Carlos Institute on Duval Street, just three doors down from Jimmy Buffet’s Original Margaritaville CafĂ©. The San Carlos is one of Florida's most beautiful and historic landmarks. It was founded in 1871 by the Cuban exiles of Key West as an educational, civic, and patriotic center. Today it serves as a museum, library, art gallery, theater, and school. Located in the heart of Key West's historic district, the San Carlos is considered the cradle of Cuba's independence movement. It was at the San Carlos that Jose Marti united the exile community in 1892 to launch the final phase of his campaign for Cuba's independence. So, Key West and Cuba are intertwined, not just at the San Carlos, but in the architecture, art, and language of the island.

Inside the San Carlos, besides Geraldine Brooks and Allan Gurganus, we were treated to Ursula Hegi, Sena Jeter Naslund, Peter Matthiessen, Barry Unsworth, Gore Vidal and a slew of others, most of them reading from their well-known novels and/or newest work. Beyond the readings, they participated on panels or gave lectures regarding their individual perspectives on the degree of allegiance a novelist owes to historical ‘fact.’

Barry Unsworth was worth getting out of bed on Sunday morning with his talk explaining why and how he writes historical fiction, and why we read it. "We haven't got any choice in the matter," the courtly Mr. Unsworth said. “The past is being forged moment to moment as we live." Each of us is the result of choices made in the past by our parents, grandparents, and beyond– in Unsworth's case, his father's decision to leave the mining work where sons followed fathers, go to the U.S. and Canada, and, upon returning to England, work in the insurance business. With those decisions, "he rescued my brother and me from that long chain of continuity, which is what happened in mining villages."

Despite my bias for fiction, I want to be fair to the history side of this seminar. There was lively consideration of the degree of accuracy an historical novelist owes a reader. Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore (both are ridiculously accomplished historians and writers) come down on the side of extreme accuracy. Lepore, besides teaching history, is a staff writer for The New Yorker, and in March of 2008 wrote an article on this subject entitled “Just the Facts, Ma’am.” Jane and Jill together have just released a novel, Blindspot, set in Boston on the eve of the American Revolution, an era both women know well as historians.

Okay…it wouldn’t be good to place the Boston Tea Party in Long Island Sound, but the depth of research demanded of historical ‘Truth’! And whose ‘Truth’ are we talking about anyway? Or, as Gurganus opined, "History is agreed-upon hearsay granted tenure."

Fortunately, Eric Foner, the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, and one of the country’s most prominent historians, eased my historical accuracy anxiety when he spoke about, “Who Owns History? Rethinking and Re-imagining the Past in a Changing World.” When he said, "The line between historical fiction and historical scholarship is not as hard and fast as we might think," I realized that “revisionist history” isn’t pejorative! History is constantly being revised as new evidence emerges, as new historians form and then filter their own ideas about past events. "History is not and should not aspire to be a science."

"Trouble is our subject matter and it is never-ending," Gurganus observed in his talk entitled, “A Still Small Voice Under the Cannonade: Field Notes toward Fiction’s Pact with History.” Gurganus was part literary academic and part stand up comedian: "Liars, like historians and politicians, tend to overdocument.... the term historical fiction sounds as pitifully redundant as, say, creative writing. It's like having 'oxygen breather' stamped on your driver's license."

Dishing Department. I have to say, I was looking forward to seeing Alan Cheuse since I’ve heard him reviewing books on NPR for years. Sadly, his light did not shine so brightly against Geraldine Brooks and Sena Jeter Naslund. While serving as their panel moderator, not once, but TWICE he made suggestive remarks (See Naslund’s Ahab’s Wife and Moby Dick) that rankled these two brilliant women, not to mention an audience of over 200 who were mostly women. What was he thinking!! I suspect his book sales suffered.

The rather steep registration fee for the seminar also covers several sumptuous food and drink events in lovely places like the grounds of the Key West Lighthouse. I cannot do such a luscious literary event justice here. Go to and read more about each of the luminaries and past seminars.

The Key West Literary Seminar is followed by four days of workshops for writers, with topics ranging from poetry to fiction, to memoir, to creative nonfiction. The workshop component costs $450. There’s a small price break if you sign up for both the seminar and the workshop parts. Transportation and lodging are up to you. All the events take place in Old Town, so it’s most convenient to stay in that area. Key West is small and compact—quite walkable. Bicycle rentals are ubiquitous and the town is bike-friendly.

Next year’s seminar. “Clearing the Sill of the World” is the theme of the 2010 seminar. It is a celebration of 60 years of American poetry in honor of Richard Wilbur, former Poet Laureate and winner of every available poetry honor or prize currently available. Registration is open now. The seminar fills up fast and attendees at this year’s event got a jump on everyone else by being able to put down a deposit before we left Key West. Again, go to for more information.

About: Judy Leaver, M.A. has worked as a professional writer for nearly 9 years, following a 20-year career in social work and mental health advocacy. Her creative writing includes poetry, essays, short stories, and untold vignettes that appear to be pointing the way to a memoir. She has participated in a writing group that is fourteen years strong, and in the spring of 2004 was selected to participate in the Jenny McKean Moore Community Workshop at George Washington University, under the tutelage of poet Rick Barot. In January of this year she participated in “Maneuvering the Poem”, a workshop with former Poet Laureate,Billy Collins in Key West, FL. Her work has been published in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. She guest-blogged here in April of 2008.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Off to VCCA!

I’m off to spend three weeks at heaven, aka The Virginia Center for Creative Arts (VCCA), an artists’ colony in southwest Virginia. After a hectic January and February, I’m excited to have some time to breathe and get in some writing on my new novel. I’ve also got an essay and a few short stories calling my name in case the novel proves to be stubborn.

I plan to blog while I’m there, though probably less regularly, but for the first week I’m taking a blog vacation of sorts. Happily, writer Judy Leaver has jumped into the gap with her wonderful report on her experiences at the 2009 Key West Literary Seminar. So look for that—as well as some pre-posted announcements—starting tomorrow. (You can read Judy’s wonderful poem about the writing process here.)

If this feels disjointed, it’s because I haven’t quite finished packing and figuring out what to bring, and clothes are being washed as we speak. How many sweaters is too many? What if I need a “nice outfit”? Will I be too hot or too cold? Will I really ever get desperate enough to eat the instant oatmeal packets I bought at Target? It freaked me out to realize at midnight that I had forgotten all about a hair dryer…so what else have I forgotten??!

Ahh....breathe. Happy writing!!

"Song of Myself" Reading

This announcement from American University reminds me of the long-ago afternoon I spent reading this poem out loud to myself while sprawled in a hammock on a perfect summer day…one of the highlights of my literary life, and a highly recommended activitity:

Are you looking to extend the elation and hopefulness about President Obama's election a little longer? Join students and faculty of the AU Literature Department for a marathon reading of Walt Whitman's great poem, "Song of Myself."

The reading will begin at 5:30 on Friday, February 27 in the first floor Atrium of Battelle-Tompkins at American University.

Whitman began publishing his long poem in 1855, when the United States was splintering, divided over slavery and sorely lacking in political leadership. Once a political idealist, Whitman turned to poetry to "define America, her athletic Democracy."

Rethinking the very basis of democracy, Whitman insists on the strength of the individual, the affirmation of the sensual life of the body as well as the soul, the acceptance of others, and deep awareness of our part in nature.

Whitman's monumental poem is 52 sections long and is typically read only in selections. We will read the poem straight through with volunteers from the audience each reading a section. Whether you'd like to read a section of the poem or just listen, please plan to stop by. This is not a lecture or discussion and no advance preparation or knowledge of the poem is necessary.
If you'd like to read a particular section of the poem, please sign in on the electronic signup sheet at or contact
Everyone is welcome. Refreshments will be served.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Work in Progress: AWP Report

Yes, yes, as always AWP was exhausting and exciting. Steve came along with me, even though I warned him that being around 7000 writers isn’t always pretty. (He noted the waves of clove cigarette smoke wafting around the hotel entranceway…and quickly learned that he had to be aggressive to jam onto an elevator during the 15-minute breaks between panels.)

I thought the Hilton was fine enough, though as usual, the AWP people made some major mistakes in room scheduling (what’s worse, 40 people in a room for 250 or 250 people in a room for 40? I exaggerate only slightly.). So I was too claustrophobic to squeeze into two inches of floor space for “Ways to Read Like a Writer” and had to miss that one.

Otherwise, I saw some excellent panels and some wonderful readings. Highlights include:

--“Fictionalizing Family”: about how to (or whether to) write about your family. No definitive answers of course, but a very well-organized Q&A format with smart writers. Why do we remember certain, seemingly innocuous things from our past? Perhaps it’s best not to show anything to your family/friends until AFTER it’s published, because there’s nothing they can do and no way they can affect the outcome. The famous quote (not sure by whom--??) was mentioned several times: “Write as if everyone you know is dead.” And most of the panelists agreed that, in general, if a family member doesn’t want to see themselves in one of your characters…they won’t.

--“Smart Girls: The Ambition Game”: about how to balance (or is it survive?) the business side of the writing life while still being true to the spirit that makes you want to write. Again, no definitive answers, but some very smart women asking some tough questions. Among the lines I jotted down: “Writing is a spiritual act, not a line on a resume”; a quote from Marge Piercy, “work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved”; “we write for the largest sense of the word ‘ambition,’ to change the world…cash is small compared to righting the world.” That last bit is from Dorothy Allison’s (author of Bastard Out of Carolina) rousing charge to write for art’s sake, to reach for the top—for the glory of language and words, to have Olympian ambitions. She got an immediate standing ovation and sent many in the audience digging through their purses for Kleenex. Sadly I missed her Friday night reading, but now that I’ve seen her speak, I’d drive 50 miles through the snow to see her…she was INCREDIBLE.

--I also enjoyed seeing my South Carolina friends read, Rick Mulkey (poet, author of Toward Any Darkness) and Susan Tekulve (fiction). He read some new poems which were extraordinary, and she read part of her novel-in-stories which was achingly beautiful.

--David Vann is the author of Legend of a Suicide, the AWP winner for short fiction, and the story he read was fantastic. (Steve is partway through the book and is loving it.) The woman who introduced him noted that he writes from a dark place that doesn’t have any “convenient light switches.” It was also heartening in that sick writer way that David Vann said he worked on this book for 10 years, and his agent refused to send it out because it’s so hard to get story collections published. (Check the link above for the rave review this book got in the New York Times Book Review…so there, silly agent!)

--The Book Fair was its usual, crazy self…I thought I had seen everything until I discovered a whole giant room I’d missed. I bought some subscriptions to journals I like (Tin House, McSweeney’s) and some new ones (32 Poems, Quiddity) and bought/picked up enough interesting sample copies to warrant a trip to the hotel’s mailing center so I wouldn’t set off the cash register connected to the airplane luggage scale. Note to book fair people: Interestingly, I tended to buy things from people who engaged me in conversation, and not from the sullen people slumping behind tables studiously avoiding all eye contact.

--Steve roamed around the book fair on his own for a bit, and it was interesting to hear his reactions as an “outsider” (“There are a lot of literary journals out there”) and to see what he bought on his own. I was impressed: he bought a well-regarded HC memoir from W.W. Norton, an intriguingly offbeat novel from Tin House Books, and he even took a chance on a poetry chapbook. We read some of it the other night, and I’m impressed with what he ferreted out on his own: Dear Wild Abandon, by Andrew Michael Roberts was selected by Mark Strand (one of my faves) for the Poetry Society of America, and the book is different and wonderful. Here’s one of the poems (yes, this is the whole thing):

“The Moon”
All the other moons
get their own names.

--Here’s a novel thought that probably should not have to be pointed out, people: Babies—and their unpredictable behavior—don’t belong at readings and panels. Toddlers should not be expected to enjoy a crowded book fair.

--Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my fabulous Polish-American colleagues: poet Linda Nemec Foster, short story writer Anthony Bukoski, poet John Minczeski, and poet John Guzlowski. We read at the Polish Museum of America, and then at AWP itself. I wasn’t sure who might show up at such a panel, but it was a lovely and sizeable audience, including one woman who said she had waited all day to hear us read because she hadn’t known there were other Polish-American writers out there. And that, more than anything, is what AWP is about…connections (the nice kind) and community!

And, what you’ve really been waiting for, food highlights:

--Lou Malnati’s pizza with buttercrust
--pumpkin dumplings and (too many) vodka flights at Russian Tea Time
--whitefish at Miller’s Pub
--Valentine’s Day dinner arranged by Steve at the Cape Cod Room, at the Drake Hotel, where we were married.

And people highlights:

--It seems as though AWP brings me in contact with every writer I’ve ever met, but I have a special “hi and miss you already” to Rachel, Anna, Mary, Rick, Susan! Hope to see you next year in Denver!

Things to Do Before You Die: One Amazing Hockey Game

Last night for Valentine’s Day, Steve took me to a Caps game vs. the Montreal Canadiens. We had AMAZING seats, three rows behind the penalty box, at center ice, and the game was fabulous (despite some bad penalty killing by the Caps). It ended in a regulation tie, thanks to a grinder’s goal in the last three minutes or so (I believe it was his 7th goal all season), and no one scored in the overtime, so there was a shoot-out, which the Caps won 2-0 to 0-2.

But most memorable was Alex Ovechkin’s 42nd goal of the year—a goal of the decade, for sure—in which he managed to score while sliding across the ice on his butt. Of course, that doesn’t really describe it fully. Even non-hockey fans can appreciate this:

Check it out, to remind yourself of what can happen when skill and hard work meet magic--the moment that we writers ceaselessly strive for.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Richard Yates: Yearning

I promise that my AWP report will be up tomorrow. (And it will be SO worth the wait...ha!) Until then, here’s this:

Steve recently finished reading Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates, which he very much liked, inspiring me to want to reread the book. I read it long ago, and I don’t think I appreciated it…maybe I was too young. We were discussing Yates—whose books of short stories Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, has an ironclad position on my “favorite books” shelf—and I couldn’t remember the exact wording of a Yates quote I had always liked.

So, later, I looked it up (yay, internet!) and in the process came across this fascinating (and sad) memoir by Martin Naparsteck, who knew Yates in the 1980s. Worth checking out for sure if you’re a Yates fan.

Enticing excerpt:
[Yates] liked to talk to me about particular stories that were favorites of his. He asked me if I had ever read "The Eighty-Yard Run" by Irwin Shaw. I said no. He outlined it for me. It's about a man and woman who meet in college and the man is more interested in the woman than she is in him, but when she sees him return a kickoff for an 80-yard touchdown during a scrimmage, she changes her mind, they date, end up getting married, and their marriage is unhappy. At one point she tries to explain modern art to him, but he says he likes pictures with horses in them. It's a poignant and pregnant scene. The story, Yates says, is about two good people who never should have married each other. I had asked him about "The Best of Everything," one of his stories, about a young couple who are about to get married, and the night before the wedding, the woman tries to seduce the man by, among other things, offering him wine, but he asks for beer instead. It's a poignant and pregnant scene. I had told him, it's a story about two good and decent people who just never should be married. And he had said, "Did you ever read `The Eighty-Yard Run'?"

(BTW, the quote I had in mind is from Young Hearts Crying: "We spent our whole lives yearning; isn't that the God damnedest thing?")

Food + Fiction = Fish Chowder

Katharine (Kitty) Davis, whose new novel East Hope has just been released, has written about “food and fiction” on the Book Club Blog. Be sure to check it out here…and also don’t miss her yummy recipes for fish chowder (and cornbread) as mentioned in the pages of East Hope. Kitty writes on the blog:

“Caroline Waverly, my female protagonist in East Hope is a food writer. Early in the novel, after moving to Maine, she makes fish chowder for her friend, Vivien, who has come to visit. They eat the soup in the airy dining room in the lovely old house that Caroline has inherited. Vivien comments on the freshness of the fish, the beautiful view, and the charming village of East Hope. Meanwhile, Caroline can barely swallow her soup as she tries to gather the courage to tell her friend the news that will change her life completely.”

Sun Magazine Gathering: Save the Date

I love The Sun magazine, which I’ve subscribed to for ages. Each issue contains arresting photographs, at least one essay/poem/story that makes me cry, and at least one essay/poem/story that makes me think something I’ve never thought before. It is the one magazine I truly can’t imagine being without.

So I was honored recently to be invited to participate as a speaker at one of their weekend gatherings* for subscribers, readers, and writers. The details are being finalized, and I’ll pass along the scoop as I get it, but for now, here’s the promo for the events:

Join Sun authors and readers, as well as editor and publisher Sy Safransky, for a lively weekend of conversation, reflection, and inspiration. The Sun will host two gatherings this year: one on May 15–17 at the Rowe Conference Center in Rowe, Massachusetts, and the other on October 30–November 1 at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Click here for details.

*I’ll be at the May event in Massachusetts.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

David Sedaris Cures Headaches

Had an amazing, overwhelming time at the AWP conference in Chicago—so overwhelming that when I got home, I promptly got one of those awful tension headaches that requires no action beyond laying around for hours and hours. So more on the conference tomorrow, but for now, I will say that the only benefit to the headache was re-discovering my CD of David Sedaris reading his wonderful book of essays, Naked, and listening to it several times while I couldn’t sleep.

I like all of Sedaris’s work, but this book is the best (IMHO) as it has the tightest focus on his family and so achieves that greatest triumph of all—making me laugh even as I’m reaching for the Kleenex. Especially noteworthy is “Ashes,” in which he learns three weeks before his sister’s wedding that his mother is dying of cancer. I also thought that “I Like Boys” is another sad/funny one, where he goes off to Greece to summer camp and tries to battle his homosexuality.

The printed book is good—and I admit that the CD is abridged—but even so, nothing beats hearing him read these essays out loud. It’s the best introduction to his work that I can imagine.

(Check out David Sedaris’s list of recommended reading here.)

NEA Deadline

A word to the wise: Prose writers, the National Endowment for the Arts grant deadline is March 5. Application is made online, and speaking from experience, when they say allow yourself 10 days to get your application organized and submitted, THEY MEAN IT. The process is—to say the least—cumbersome and unpredictable.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Guest in Progress: Ryan Krausmann

I’ll have a full report on my adventures at AWP in Chicago next week, but for now, enjoy this piece by Ryan Krausmann, who kindly offers us all the cocktail chatter we’ll ever need about Kingsley Amis.

(And check out Ryan’s wonderful previous post, one of the site’s most popular, about his bold move to quit his job and write his novel.)

Fourteen Things You Don’t Know About Kingsley Amis
By Ryan Krausmann

I just finished Zachary Leader’s 2006 biography The Life of Kingsley Amis. Amis (1922-1995) is considered the greatest English comic novelist of the second half of the twentieth century. It’s an excellent book. Haven’t got around to it yet? Don’t worry, I have blog-ified its 996 pages for you. Personally, it took me three renewals from the Philadelphia City Institute Library to finish it.

1. As an only child his mother, Peggy Amis, offered verbal encouragement for him to finish the food on his plate. She would divide the unconsumed portion into what he was allowed to leave and what he must eat.

2. While at Oxford University he met the poet Philip Larkin who would remain a life-long friend. Their constant correspondence – spanning six decades - provides much of the material for The Letters of Kingsley Amis published in 2000.

3. During the Second World War, which interrupted his studies at Oxford University, Amis choose to join a Royal Signals unit for officer-cadets as he was less likely to get killed there than in other service branches.

4. Amis’s first finished book-length fiction “The Legacy” was conceived in the winter of 1945-46, begun in the summer of 1947, completed in the summer of 1948, much revised and rejected in the next two and a half years and never published.

5. His first published novel Lucky Jim received almost uniformly positive reviews. Anthony Powell writing in the defunct weekly Punch called Amis “the first promising young novelist who has turned up for a long time.” It remains in print today in both England and the United States.

6. Lucky Jim won the Somerset Maugham Award administered by the Society of Authors in 1955. Twenty-three years later, his second son Martin Amis won it for his first novel, The Rachel Papers.

7. It is speculated, although never corroborated by tests, that Amis’s third child Sally Amis was not his daughter. The supposed father, a family friend, was not confronted and Sally Amis died in 2000 at the age of forty-six having never been alerted to this possibility.

8. In 1968 Amis wrote a James Bond novel, Colonel Sun, under the pen name Robert Markham.

9. Before Amis’s knighthood in 1990 he wrote a note to Julian Barnes worrying that he was bound to fall over the Queen’s foot, fart or say fuck.

10. Due to the extreme generosity of Amis’s second wife, Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis, who was seriously ill, stayed in Amis’s house. He died of pancreatic cancer in that house with his fourteen year old son, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, holding his hand.

11. After winning the Booker Prize in 1986 for his eighteenth novel The Old Devils, Amis signed a two-book contract with his publisher worth 200,000 pounds.

12. In his seventy-three years of life, Amis never learned to drive a car.

13. Amis spent his entire life utterly afraid of the dark and of being alone.

14. In 1996, exactly one year after Amis’s death, a memorial service was held in St Martin-in-the-Fields. Among the novelists in attendance were Iris Murdoch, V.S. Naipul, David Lodge, Ian McEwan, and Salman Rushdie.

About: Ryan Krausmann is still at work on his first brilliant, genius novel. It remains unfinished and unpublished. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Half-Finished Book, continued

After being away and dealing with a cranky computer, I’m slowly catching up on my reading and here’s a great article from the New York Times about the issue of whether to dump a book you don’t like or keep trudging through it. (I first explored the dilemma here.) Thank you, Paula Whyman, for passing it along.

Enticing excerpt:

Myla Goldberg (''Bee Season'') tells herself that reading a mediocre book ''would mean that I would eventually be on my deathbed having been deprived of the opportunity to read some other book, perhaps one that would have been really fun, or exciting, or even life-changing.'' [Michael] Chabon gives a book two pages, Goldberg allows it 15 to 50, and a book editor I know says that ''publishing turns you into a person who decides within five pages whether you'll like something or not and who puts it down (whether it's work or personal reading) without one ounce of guilt if the answer is no.'' She added, ''I know someone who swears by nothing more than the first sentence.'' What puts these readers off? The most complained-of quality is ''lyricism,'' the piling on of metaphors, similes and extravagant imagery. Also hated are long passages of description (particularly of weather and geology) and hokey framing devices like ''I remember well the summer I turned 14. . . .'' For the writer, the pitfalls are many, and one imperative rules: ''Your beginning better be just killer,'' Chabon says.

Note to self: Better re-revise that first page again!

South Carolina Poets, Take Note

Hi there, friends at Converse College in South Carolina! Here’s a contest announcement just for you!

South Carolina Poetry Initiative 2009

Entries are now being accepted for the 2009 statewide Single Poem Contest. The contest is sponsored by the South Carolina Poetry Initiative, which is located in the University of South Carolina’s English Department and The State newspaper. Winners will have their poems published in The State newspaper and will also receive cash prizes.
1st place 400.00
2nd place 300.00
3rd place 200.00
People’s Choice 100.00

Guidelines: Entries must be postmarked by Friday, February 27th, 2009.
1. Each entry is a single poem.
2. Poems submitted must be written by an individual 16yrs. of age or older.
3. Poets may submit more than one poem.
4. Each poem must be accompanied by a $5 fee made payable to USC Educational Foundation. *This is important: Checks made payable to other entities will not be accepted.
5. Each poem must be no more than 70 lines in length.
6. The author's name should not appear on the page with the poem.
7. However, each entry must be accompanied by a cover sheet that includes:
a. name
b) address
c) phone number
d) name of the poem
e) e-mail address
f) author's date of birth,
g) 50-75 word bio.
8. All poems entered must have been written by the poet.
9. Only original poetry will be considered.
10. All entries must be unpublished poems.
11. No entries will be returned to the author.
12. Previous winners must wait a period of two years before submitting work.
13. Announcements about winners will be made in The State.
14. Poets must be South Carolina natives or permanent residents of South Carolina.
15. Note: Individual criticism of poems cannot be given.
16. Mail your entry or entries to:
Kwame Dawes/poetry contest
c/o The State, Features Department
P.O. Box 1333
Columbia, SC 29202

Entry Fee: Submissions should include a check for $5 made out to USC Educational Foundation to help defray administrative costs.

Judging: The contest’s judge will be a nationally acclaimed poet.

Note: On March 30th, the top ten poems, as determined by our judge, will appear in The State newspaper; and from this list, readers will pick the winner of People’s Choice prize. The final winners will be announced at a celebratory event featuring a reading by a renowned poet on Saturday, April 11th. The Awards Ceremony will feature an announcement of the winners for both the Single Poem Contest and the South Carolina Poetry Initiative’s 2009 Book Contest. This event will take place from 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM at 80808 Vista Studios, 808 Lady Street.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Thanks to poet Kim Roberts who compiled this helpful guide* to DC authors who will be in Chicago at AWP in Chicago:

Many former and current authors from DC participating. Look for panels featuring: Kim Addonizio, Rosellen Brown, Carole Burns, Regie Cabico, Cornelius Eady, Carolyn Forche, JoAnne Growney, David Kipen, Toni Asante Lightfoot, Haki R. Madhubuti, Mark McMorris, Honor Moore, Lisa C. Moore, Valzhyna Mort, Linda Pastan, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Carly Sachs, Ravi Shankar, Susan Richards Shreve, Joshua Weiner, Mary Kay Zuravleff.

February 12 at 1:30 pm, "Another World Instead: Readings from The Early Poems of William Stafford, 1937-1947." (Fred Marchant, Linda Pastan, Kim Stafford, Jennifer Barber, Kevin Bowen, Mary Szybist)

February 12 at 7:00 pm (off-site)
"From Chocolate to Chi: DC Poets in Chicago": Poetry reading by Kim Roberts, Sarah Browning, Regie Cabico, Sage Morgan Hubbard, John Murillo, and Melissa Tuckey
Insight Arts, 1545 W. Morse Ave., Roger's Park neighborhood, Chicago, IL (773) 973-1521. Half a block from the Morse station on the Red Line. Free.

February 12 at 7:30 (off-site): TinFish Press & friends with Tom Orange, Craig Santos Perez, Ric Royer, Tyrone Williams, Meg WithersLinks Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield Ave., near the Belmont station on the Red and Brown lines. $5 admission.

February 13 at 4:30 pm, West Chester University Poetry Conference 15th Anniversary Reading. (David Yezzi, Molly Peacock, David Mason, Kim Addonizio, Andrew Hudgins)

February 13 at 4:30 pm, Pitt Poetry Series Reading. (Ed Ochester, Stephanie Brown, Nancy Krygowski, Jeffrey McDaniel, Afaa Michael Weaver)

February 13 at 4:30 pm, "The Country They Come From: Polish-American Writers Read about the Midwest and Poland." (John Guzlowski, Anthony Bukoski, Linda Foster, John Minczeski, Leslie Pietrzyk)

February 13 at 8:00 pm (off-site)
Red Rover Series "Experiment #26: A Small Press Showcase" with Action Books, Effing Press, Flood Editions, Futurepoem books, Les Figues Press, Slack Buddha Press, Switchback Books, Ugly Duckling Presse. Readings by: Jessica Bozek, Amina Cain, Marcella Durand, Gloria Frym, Bill Fuller, Kim Hyesoon, Alta Ifland, Nancy Kuhl, Dan Machlin, Don Mee, Hoa Nguyen, Mel Nichols, Kathleen Rooney, Susan Schultz, John Tipton, Ronaldo V. Wilson
Links Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield Ave., near the Belmont station on the Red and Brown lines. $5 admission.

February 14 at Noon, "WritersCorps: A Reading from a New City Lights Anthology Celebrating 15 Years." (Chad Sweeney, Jeffrey McDaniel, Thomas Centolella, Elissa Perry, Ishle Yi Park)

Book Signings:
February 12 at 10:30 am
Sarah Browning signs Whiskey in the Garden of Eden at the Word Works table (#792)

February 12 at 11:30 am
Patricia Gray signs Rupture at the Red Hen Press tables (#522-526)

February 12 at 1:30 pm
Leslie Pietrzyk signs Pears on a Willow Tree at the Converse College table (#731)

February 13 at 10:00 am
Elizabeth Oness signs her novel set in DC, Twelve Rivers of the Body at the Gival Press table (#514)

February 13 at 1:00 pm
J.D. Smith signs Settling for Beauty at the Word Works table (#792)

February 13 at 3:00 pm
JoAnne Growney signs Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics at the Word Works table (#792)

February 13 at 4:00 pm
Patricia Gray signs Rupture at the Red Hen Press tables (#522-526)

February 14 at 10:00 am
Gregg Shapiro signs Protection (poems set in Chicago, Boston, and DC) at the Gival Press table (#514)

February 14 at 10:00 am
Karren L. Alenier signs Winners, A Retrospective of the Washington Prize (#792)

February 14 at 10:30 am
Kim Roberts signs The Kimnama at the Split This Rock table (#309).

Poet Lore, celebrating its 120th year in print, invites all poets published in the magazine to stop by Book Fair Table #238 to sign issues for their archives. They will be serving birthday cake too.

Book Fair Displays:
American University
Gival Press
National Endowment for the Arts
Orchises Press
Poet Lore
Potomac Review
Split This Rock Poetry Festival
So To Speak
32 Poems
University of Maryland
The Word Works, Inc.

*This list may be incomplete.

2/28 Fiction Writing Seminar

Here’s an event worth looking into:

American Independent Writers Fiction Writing Seminar
Saturday, February 28, 2009
George Mason University, Johnson Center, Campus Cinema
Sponsored jointly by George Mason University, Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program
and American Independent Writers

Panels include:
Literary Fiction versus Genre Fiction
Novelists Who Write Reviews and Criticism
Second Novels
New Media and Publishing Creative Writing

Panelists include:
John Gilstrap, Donna Andrews. Alan Cheuse, James Grady, Reb Livingston, Sudlip Bose, and Louis Bayard

With several more speakers TBA.

Register online at, by telephone to (202) 775-5150 or by FAX to (202) 775-5810.
AIW Members $119, Non-members $189, and Students $69.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Perfect Gift for Valentine's Day!

Okay, so maybe I’m slightly biased, since one of my stories has been included. But I am such a HUGE fan of The Sun magazine (which I plan to subscribe to until I die) that even if they hadn’t selected my story “Ten Things” to appear in this anthology, I would still buy a copy of this newly released book.

Here’s the description of The Mysterious Life of the Heart:

"In fifty personal essays, short stories, and poems that originally appeared in The Sun, some of the magazine’s most talented writers explore the enigma of love. With unremitting candor, they take us on a journey through ecstasy and heartbreak, anger and forgiveness, fleeting crushes and lasting relationships. The result is an unforgettable tapestry of love: vibrant, messy, mysterious, and enduring."

Enticing excerpt from the introduction:

“Love is a house with many rooms, and The Mysterious Life of the Heart explores only one of them: not a child’s love for a parent or a parent’s love for a child or love between siblings or love between friends. It’s about the room upstairs at the end of the hall, shared by two lovers who’ve decided to stay — for a weekend or forever, no one can say. Sometimes they kiss, sometimes they bite. They dream they’re in heaven. They swear they’re in hell. That room.”

Enticing excerpt from my story, “Ten Things”:

“He once compared you to an avocado. He was never good at saying what he meant in fancy ways. (You had a boyfriend in college who dedicated poems to you, one of which won a contest in the student literary magazine, but that boyfriend never compared you to anything as simple and real as an avocado.)"

And here’s where to click if you’d like more details or ordering information:

--Read the introduction
--Browse the table of contents
--Order the book

MD Fiction Contest

Bethesda Magazine is sponsoring a no-fee short story contest for writers and high school students who live in Montgomery County, Maryland. You can get all the details here, but note that the deadline is March 16, so don’t wait too long.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Work in Progress: Writing Can Be Fun

Late last summer, I wrote this humor piece poking fun at memoirs, and alas, no one was interested in publishing it. So what better use of a blog than to amuse myself?

I had a lot of fun playing with this—if you come up with some good ones, please feel free to share! Email me, and I’ll post the best.

The Year of Reading “The Year of” Books
by Leslie Pietrzyk

Recent popular book titles:

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A.J. Jacobs

Julie and Julia: 375 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment, by Julie Powell

Followed by: Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver, and Steven L. Hopp

365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy, by Charla Muller and Betsy Thorpe

Look for these forthcoming titles soon at a bookstore near you:

“Damn Right It Makes You Look Fat”: A Married Couple Says What They Really Think for a Year

Eat, Sleep, Pant, Poop: One Year of Following the Advice of a Chocolate Lab

We Ate Like Pigs: One Family Eats What Pigs Eat for a Year!

The Year I Posted a Totally Different Message Everyday on My Neighborhood Listserve: Stray Cats, Plumber Referrals, Bad Contractors, Yard Sales, and Other Zaniness from Suburban USA

Reader, I Didn’t Marry Him: A Year in Which Each Date Is Worse Than the One the Night Before

No Room at the Inn: A Year Spent Touring the U.S. Through Time-Share Presentations

Strike!: The Year I Watched Every PBA Bowling Match on TV but Cheered Only for Bowlers from Milwaukee

“Please Try Again”: The Year of Scratch-Off Lottery Tickets

Season’s Bounty: A Year on the Farm during Which Eighteen Million Chickens Are Slaughtered, and We Also Unload Bushels of Tomatoes at the Overpriced but Quaint Farm Stand

Is God Everywhere?: 365 Nights, 365 Bars…in Search of God

Once Bitten: A Year in the Underground Competitive Piranha Circuit

To Insure Proper Service: The Year I Complained about Poor Service at a Different Restaurant Each Night
(adapted from the popular blog,

Mornings with Many: 365 Days of Power Walking the Mall with Old Folks Wearing Frighteningly White Sneakers

The Year We Made the Kids Try a Different Vegetable Every Day Until We Ran Out of Choices and They Got Their Dessert Anyway

Everything Starts in Ypsilanti!: The Year We Traveled to Cities Beginning with Y

The Year We Packed All Our Stuff into Boxes and then Unpacked It All Again, Over and Over and Over

Not on the Final: The Year We Read All the Books on the Syllabus that We Didn’t Bother Buying in College

A Year of Carrying a Different Country’s Currency in My Pocket Each Day

The Year of Making Polite Chit-Chat with Telemarketers

Shipping and Handling Not Included: A Year of Ordering (+ Using!) Every Product Seen on Late-Night Cable
(includes handy guide of toll-free numbers)

Julia and Me: A Year Spent Googling Diahann Carroll, TV’s Favorite African-American Nurse

Like a Good Neighbor: A Year of Keeping a Car Up on Blocks in My Front Yard (Which BTW I’ve Stopped Mowing), Partying on Fridays, 6 AM Leaf-Blowing, and Letting My Dog Bark At Any Old Thing

F- the Past, How About the Future: A Year of Living like the Jetsons
followed by this sequel:
F- the Future, How About the Past: A Year of Living like the Flintstones

525,600: A Year of My Life Spent Waiting for the Doctor to See Me Now

The Year of Spending My Summer Like a Teenager: Searching Out Heartbreaking Summer Loves Who Are Now All Bald and Paunchy, Eating Greasy Food and Gaining Twenty Pounds, Making Minimum Wage at Some Crappy Job That I Take Too Seriously

Gridiron: My Year Spent Washing Jerseys in the NFL

The View from Miss Daisy’s Window: A Year of Sitting in the Backseat Whenever Someone Drove Me Somewhere

Free Team Towel: A Year of Handing Out Credit Card Applications at Stadiums across America

One Pumpkin, 1689 Pounds—A Year Growing Ginormous Pumpkins and Chasing World Records and the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth Hall of Fame

The Year I Filled Up the Bathtub Completely with Water and Then Let It Sit There (includes black and white photos)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

AWP: See You in Chicago!

Will you be oneof the 5000 writers at the AWP conference in Chicago next week? If so, and you have the chance, please come by to see me during one of my events. There's an unconfirmed rumor that there may be Polish vodka at the Friday afternoon reading....

Thursday, February 12, 2009
1:30 pm – 2:30 p.m.
Book signing
Book Fair, AWP conference
Converse College table
Update: Table #731, Southwest Hall, Lower Level
Hilton Chicago
720 South Michigan Avenue
Come say hi during my book signing—I’ll entertain you with more stories of the wonderful Converse College dining hall food!

Thursday, February 12, 2009
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
The Polish Museum of America
The Great Hall
984 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL
There is free parking to the west of the building. The Museum can also be reached by the 56 Milwaukee Ave. bus (Augusta stop) or the blue line (three long blocks from either the Division or Chicago Avenue stops. A small donation is requested.

Five Polish-American writers (see below) read and discuss how they have been shaped by the culture of the midwest and the culture of Poland.

Friday, February 13, 2009
4:30 pm-5:45 pm
Hilton Chicago
720 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605
Ontario Room, 8th Floor
The Country They Come From: Polish-American Writers Read about the Midwest and Poland. (John Guzlowski, Anthony Bukoski, Linda Foster, John Minczeski, Leslie Pietrzyk) Polish-American writers have been writing in and about the Midwest for a 150 years. They have written novels, travel narratives, poems, songs and memoirs that commemorate the Midwest while memorializing the country these writers or their ancestors came from. Five recent Polish-American writers will demonstrate that this tradition is very much alive and vital. Free.
Sponsored by the AWP Writing Conference.

And here is some additional information about my distinguished co-panelists:

Poet Linda Nemec Foster writes about the search for Polish roots and her travels to Poland to discover what parts of her identity were formed there. Short story writer Anthony Bukoski writes about the disappearing communities of Poles in northern Wisconsin, and their interaction with successive waves of post WWII and post Soviet Poles. Poet John Minczeski’s most recent book tries to put the essentials of Polish identity within the context of Western culture. Novelist Leslie Pietrzyk (Iowa) writes about the tension between older immigrants and their children and grandchildren growing up. Poet John Guzlowski, a Polish immigrant writes about what brought his family to America and how his Polish parents struggled to maintain their Polish identity within a melting-pot culture.

TV Writer to Present Program on "Character and Dialogue"

Mystery and thriller writer Austin Camacho has sent along the following announcement for all VA/DC/MD writers:

You don't want to miss the next meeting of the Northern Virginia chapter of the Virginia Writers Club.

On February 22 at noon, novelist, screenwriter and playwright Thomas B. Sawyer will give a two-hour presentation on Character and Dialogue—Creating and Putting Unique Words in the Mouths.

Who is this Tom Sawyer? Well, he was Head Writer of the CBS series, "Murder, She Wrote." He has written 9 network TV pilots and 100 episodes, and has been Head Writer, Showrunner or Story Editor on 15 network TV series.

His first novel was the best-selling mystery/thriller, The Sixteenth Man, and his books Fiction Writing Demystified and Storybase are Writer’s Digest Book Club Selections. He has taught writing and UCLA, at other colleges and universities, at numerous major writers conferences, and online at Writers University.

Chapter members who have paid their 2009 dues will benefit from this presentation/workshop for free. Others will pay $5 on arrival. Smart writers will join the chapter before the 22nd. Details are on our website,

Save Yourself from the Lure of the Internet

Apple users—if you’re embarrassed and horrified by how much time you “spend” (i.e. waste) on the internet, look into Freedom, a program that will disable your browser for up to eight hours at a time. “I’m a PC”—so I have no personal experience using it, though I’m interested in any pro/con reports anyone has.

The program is free, though be a good person and consider donating if you like the program. Details are here.

(Link via Maud Newton.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

East Hope by Katharine Davis on Sale Today!

Today is the big day for my dear friend Katharine (Kitty) Davis: her fabulous second novel, East Hope, officially goes on sale today!

My writing group read it in draft over the past couple years, and I can honestly say that it’s a wonderful story about the surprising second chances that life offers. Maine-ophiles will love what Kitty does with the evocative setting and will be running for the lobster pot! (Check out Kitty's Maine travel tips.)

If you think I might be biased, consider this lavish pre-publication praise:

“Katharine Davis has written an utterly irresistible novel, suffused with the special light and clarity of Maine. A book about second chances and real love, with characters as complicated as we really are. I couldn't put it down.”
~Lee Smith, author of THE LAST GIRLS and ON AGATE HILL

“East Hope is a charming love story, delightfully old-fashioned with a very modern twist. Katharine Davis captures Maine not just as a setting but as the character it is.”
~Lilly King, author of THE ENGLISH TEACHER

“Katharine Davis' captivating novel of loss and recovery follows a forty-four-year-old woman from a long-settled life into one that is anything but certain. The author's clean prose suits the spare setting in which most of this struggle takes place—a small seaside village in Maine. Her keen sensitivity to the people and countryside in that remote place vividly evokes its power to reshape her character's life, slowly but radically, much as the sea reshapes the shoreline.”
~Kathleen Maloy, author of EVERY LAST CUCKOO

Still not persuaded? Then see for yourself:

Buy the book here

Come see Kitty read in Alexandria, Virginia (you can bet I'll be there!):

Saturday, February 7, 2009
2 pm
Barnes and Noble
Potomac Yards, 3651 Jefferson Davis Highway
Alexandria, VA

Invite her to your book group: contact her at

Check out her website:

Virginia Festival of the Book: March 18-22

The schedule for the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville is up and ready for perusal:

The popular event runs from March 18-22…most events are free. I went last year and highly recommend it, especially if you need a good solid dose of writers and books. Plus, Charlottesville is a fun place to visit! For general information, please check the website:

Monday, February 2, 2009

A "Sunny Scrapbook" and Save Book World!

It was startling to come across the following in a Washington Post Book World review of Scrapbooks: An American History, by Jessica Helfand:

“Helfand explains that she chose scrapbooks that, above all, “tell a story worth telling.” Take, for example, the one kept by a 19-year-old girl who eloped from her Boston home. On one page is a faded color photograph of the achingly young couple lounging on beach chairs with the caption “us,” along with the taped-in key to their Virginia Beach hotel room. Two pages later comes a telegram from her forgiving parents: “Two such sweet young people should make a fine combination.” The young bride pastes in laundry lists, gin rummy tallies, her husband’s apology note after their first fight. She also starts to write poetry: romantic rhyming couplets and letters, ripped from a magazine, that spell “Bleat, Bleat.” The sunny scrapbook belonged to Anne Sexton, years before she found fame as a poet, her marriage imploded in abuse and infidelity, and she committed suicide.”

The review was written by Caroline Preston and can be found here.

Here’s a link to "Lament," an Anne Sexton poem that I love; I used several lines from it as an epigraph to my novel A Year and a Day:

The supper dishes are over and the sun
unaccustomed to anything else
goes all the way down.


And speaking of Book World—which, regrettably, the Washington Post is about to shutter—Women’s National Book Association (WNBA), Washington Chapter President, NC Weil urges readers and writers to protest the decision:

"Less than a week after Ron Charles received the Nona Balakian Citationfrom the National Book Critics Circle for excellence in reviewing, the Washington Post announced the end of Book World as a stand-alone Sunday supplement. Book reviews will be incorporated into a re-formatted Style and Outlook section starting Feb. 22nd.

Protest this decision!

Katharine Graham, long-time publisher of the Washington Post, said, "sales be damned, because the mark of a good newspaper was its book section." Amen to that!

The Washington Post needs to hear from readers, right away, if they are to reconsider. Send your comments to and put "Save Book World" in the subject line."

NC Weil ( is the President of the Washington, DC Chapter of the Women's National Book Association (, a network of women and men devoted to books and literacy for over 90 years.


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