Wednesday, September 30, 2009

George Saunders: "A Unique Kind of Sense"

I was doing some research into literary journals and found this hilarious and sweet “remembrance” by George Saunders about getting published early in his career in Quarterly West:

“Publication in Quarterly West was a huge and defining moment for me because it meant that, to somebody out there, I was making sense. I was not making sense to my boss, or to the co-worker who came in every day at precisely 5 p.m., when I was trying to get in my half hour of writing before the bus came, to tell me, again and again, in agonizing detail, the life story of Louis L'Amour, and I was starting to not even make sense to myself. And then, from Utah, a place where I had once been back when I did make sense to myself a hitchhiking young moron a` la Kerouac came this reassuring and sane voice, speaking to me as if I had not only made sense, but a unique kind of sense, the kind of sense they were looking for, a kind of sense they hadn't heard before but liked.”

Read the whole (short) piece here.

And if you’re in the DC area, be sure to buy your tickets now for Saunders’ appearance—with Susan Orlean—in the PEN/Faulkner Reading Series on February 1, 2010.

Art Club of Washington Welcomes J.C. Hallman on October 8

DC poet Sandra Beasley is someone who’s always moving amidst a flurry of excitement, whether it’s listening to a cappella Romeos as recounted in her recent and wonderful XX Files column in the Washington Post Magazine, winning prestigious awards for her poetry, or organizing fabulous events…in this case, a great program at the warm and welcoming Arts Club of Washington.

Here’s Sandra’s enticing description:

“Please join us on Thursday, October 8, as we welcome J. C. Hallman for a dual-genre evening that shows off the breadth of this versatile and acclaimed author. We will hear an excerpt from Hallman's short story collection THE HOSPITAL FOR BAD POETS; we will also "flirt with the masters" of literary criticism in celebration of his just-released anthology THE STORY ABOUT THE STORY: Great Writers Explore Great Literature.

“The reading will begin at 7 PM, and will be followed by our customary light reception and booksigning. It is free and open to all--I urge you to come, bring a friend, and spread the word.”

And here are the more formal details:

Thursday, October 8, 2009 - 7 p.m.
The Arts Club of Washington, 2017 I Street NW
Free and open to the public, reception to follow.

J. C. HALLMAN studied at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins, and he has since taught widely. His nonfiction combines memoir, history, journalism, and travelogue; previous books include The Chess Artist and The Devil is a Gentleman. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

THE HOSPITAL FOR BAD POETS (Milkweed Editions), considers the ways in which scholarship and pop culture inform ordinary lives. In the title story, an unnamed poet is taken to Nietzsche's hospital for bad poets after collapsing—and is given Rilke and oxygen to remedy his chronic acuteness. Publisher’s Weekly said “Hallman's clever debut collection … invites the reader into ordinary homes and heads before dropping sly twists of the surreal to examine contemporary culture.”

THE STORY ABOUT THE STORY (Tin House Books) anthologizes writer-on-writer reviews by such luminaries as Woolf and Nabokov in hopes of inspiring a school of “creative criticism.” As Michael Dirda observed, “We read books not from obligation but for pleasure, for mental excitement, for what A.E. Housman called the tingle at the back of the neck…. J. C. Hallman has gathered love letters, exuberant appreciations, confessions of envy and admiration. In these pages some of our finest writers stand up and testify to the power of literature to shake and shape our very souls.”

THE ARTS CLUB OF WASHINGTON is at 2017 I Street NW, near Foggy Bottom/GWU and Farragut West metro. Headquartered in the James Monroe House, a National Historic Landmark, the Club was founded in 1916 and is the oldest non-profit arts organization in the city. The Club’s mission is to foster public appreciation for the arts through educational programs that include literary events, art exhibitions, musical and theatrical performances.

For more information:
sandrabeasley@earthlink.net
www.artsclubofwashington.org

Fitzgerald Conference on October 17

Who could not love a writing conference named for Fitzgerald? Here’s an excellent event to add to your calendar:

Fitzgerald Conference Offers Unique Opportunity for Writers

According to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Action is Character.” Now, 113 years after the great American author’s birth, many writers will put their character in action by registering for 14th annual F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference in Rockville, Maryland. You can too.

The conference takes place on Saturday, October 17.

The Fitzgerald conference offers the unique opportunity for writers to hone their craft in top-notch workshops, and then listen to the masters who already have.

Julia Alvarez is this year’s honoree. Alvarez excels in multiple fields of writing: storybooks for children, young adult books, nonfiction, poetry — and most notably, novels. She is best known for her critically acclaimed novels How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies. More recent fiction includes Return to Sender and Saving the World.

Alvarez joins a diverse and prestigious list of honorees, including John Updike, Norman Mailer, E.L. Doctorow, Joyce Carol Oates, Ernest J. Gaines, Edward Albee, William Styron, John Barth, Grace Paley, Pat Conroy, Jane Smiley, William J. Kennedy, and most recently, Elmore Leonard.

Azar Nafisi, best known for her national bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books, will share her experiences teaching The Great Gatsby in Tehran.

Pulitzer-prize winner Henry Allen will moderate a panel discussion on Literary Border Crossings. The panel will include authors H.G. Carillo (Loosing my Espanish) and Olga Grushin (The Dream Life of Sukhanov).

In addition to talks from these masters, writers attending the conference will participate in writing workshops led by top-notch professionals, including editors of literary journals, authors of books, writing instructors, publishers, and others involved with the art and industry of writing. Workshop topics include short story, novel, poetry, screenplay adaptation, voice, writing for children, and more.

Adding flavor to this year’s international theme, coffee from Julia Alvarez’s own coffee farm in Dominican Republic has been generously donated by Vermont Coffee Company, and the lunch menu features a selection of international cuisine.

Learn more about the conference—and register now—at the conference website, where you can find a complete schedule of the day’s activities: www.peerlessrockville.org/FSF.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Want to "Win" Your Own Weekly Column for the Washington Post Op-Ed Page?

Go here for contest details: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/opinions/pundit-contest/index.html You won’t get rich, but if TV can embrace reality-style programming, why not newspapers?

"Spill a Drop of Blood"

I read this review of Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life by Michael Greenburg in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. The book of essays sounds quite interesting, and I was taken with the phrasing of this bit of writing advice:

"Several years ago Greenberg received a commission from The Times Literary Supplement in London to write short essays of less than 1,200 words each; the only other stipulation was that each piece had to spill a drop of blood. As the editor said: “Give it a sense of personal necessity, a sense of urgency. Otherwise, there are no restrictions.”

Vices and Virtues of Writing Groups

Here’s a nice write-up by Cathy Allen of the event I spoke at last week down in Richmond:

"James River Writers delivers a powerful Writing Show on writing groups: Can writing groups put the “Great” in your Great American Novel? James River Writers presented the vices and virtues of critique groups at last Thursday’s Writing Show....”

New Literary Journal Is Open for Submissions

Josh Korenblat, one of my former writing students at Johns Hopkins, is one of the co-founders of /One/, a new online literary journal that looks fabulous with work by Adrienne Rich,
David Sacks, Laila Lalami, and others.

He writes: “I co-founded this journal with my friends, and our original idea was how creative people affect or relate to their community, and we focused on work that reflected that theme (so basically, the opposite of art for art's sake.) We've broadened the idea to the theme of how through art, we celebrate what is human in us all.”

About the journal: /One/ is a quarterly journal of literature, art and ideas that celebrates the human in us all. In every issue, /One/ will feature one item for each of its departments—an essay, a poem, a short story, a photograph or photo essay, an audio/multimedia presentation and an interview. The editors will publish both established and emerging artists and writers whose work fits the scope of the magazine.

Noting that the journal will publish established and emerging writers, he passes along these submission guidelines:


Submission Guidelines

/One/ accepts original, unpublished written work. Simultaneous submissions are accepted but please let us know as soon as your work is accepted elsewhere. Submissions are only accepted via email and should be directed to: editors@onethejournal.com. In the email subject line, please write the department for which you’re submitting work to followed by your last name (eg. Fiction: Doe or Photography: Doe).

* Fiction: We have no minimum word-count but ask that stories don’t run longer than 3,000 words.


* Essays: We ask that essays don’t run longer than 5,000 words.


* Poetry: You can send up to five poems of any length or style.


* Interviews: For this section, please send us your idea in a short pitch first.


* Photos/Art: Please send low-res files with a brief description of the work for consideration. If the work is accepted, we can make arrangements to receive higher quality files. When submitting photographs, please provide the files as 72 dpi jpgs, 800 pixels on the longest side, sRGB, Quality 10.

* Audio/Video: Please send a short description of your work first. If we’re interested, we’ll make arrangements to receive the files.

* Illustrations: We will occasionally use illustrations pertaining to text. Please send your work and we will let you know if it’s a fit for an upcoming issue.


At this time /One/ cannot provide any compensation to its contributors. /One/ acquires first publication rights for written work (this does not apply to art, photographs or music and video). After publication, the rights revert to the contributors, at which point they are free to reprint their work on websites, books and anthologies or as they wish. The work of our contributors will be archived on One’s website. We respectfully ask for contributors to mention that the work was first published on /One/.


More information at the website.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Voices from Beyond: Posthumous Works & Anne Frank

Steve pointed out two recent Wall Street Journal articles of interest:

“Ghost Writers” is about the wave of posthumous, unfinished books about to be unleashed on us, including works by David Foster Wallace, Ralph Ellison, Vladimir Nabokov, and Graham Greene:

“The posthumous works may generate as much controversy as enthusiasm. Many are incomplete or appear in multiple drafts, raising thorny questions about author intent. Others, dug up from the archives of authors' early and less accomplished work, could be branded disappointing footnotes to otherwise lustrous literary legacies. An unfinished murder mystery by Graham Greene, which is being serialized in the literary magazine, "The Strand," was slammed on the Los Angeles Times's literary blog, Jacket Copy, as "a far cry" from Greene's later works, such as "The Power and the Glory."

“While some attribute the surge in posthumous publications to macabre coincidence, others say publishers are more aggressively seeking works by famous dead authors because they have established audiences—an irresistible prospect for a struggling industry….”

Read the whole thing here.

And here’s an interview with Francine Prose, who has written a book about Anne Frank and her diary. Excerpt:

WSJ: To you, Anne Frank was more than a young diarist; she was a disciplined writer.

FP: In 1944, her last spring in the attic, she heard a Dutch minister in exile on the radio say that after the war, there would be interest in the stories of what ordinary Dutch people had suffered. That's when she got the idea of publishing her diary, and she went back to the beginning and started to rewrite. She was writing more than 10 pages a day, with no privacy, terrible food shortages, the horror of not being able to make a sound all day and the constant fear of betrayal.

The Sun Subscription Goes To...

Congratulations to Mike R. of Rockville, Maryland, who will be enjoying my gift of a year of The Sun magazine in honor of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday. If you didn’t win, you may want to look into subscribing on your own: it’s one of my favorite magazines!

TriQuarterly Round-Up

People are still settling into the hard news that TriQuarterly as we know it is disappearing. I’m still waiting for some sort of white knight to ride in (guess I read too many fairy tales as a kid). To keep you up to speed:

Here’s my post that includes the email from one of the editors.

Here’s the official Northwestern University press release about the situation.

Here’s another take from Howard Junker, editor of the highly-respected journal ZYZZYVA, who notes that “as far as I can tell, TriQ is the first major litmag to be e-ed. It certainly won't be the last.”

And poets C. Dale Young (scroll down) and Victoria Chang offer personal, heartfelt recollections of what made TriQuarterly so special.

UPDATE: C. Dale Young offers more links at Avoiding the Muse: http://avoidmuse.blogspot.com/2009/09/more-on-triquarterly-dustup.html

(Discolosure: I graduated from Northwestern and have had two stories published in TriQuarterly.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Work in Progress: Happy Fitzgerald's Birthday!

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born on September 24, 1896, so obviously we all have to take the day off and spend it reflecting upon The Great Gatsby, which, as I make abundantly clear to everyone I meet, is one of the most nearly perfect novels ever written. (I love that awkwardness as Fitzgerald tries to find a way to get in all the information about what really happened at the gas station when his first person narrator wasn’t there; it’s an endearing flaw in the otherwise perfect book.)

To celebrate this big day, I suggest that everyone make an excuse to drink a little bit of gin. I prefer the kind in a martini, but if you’ve got something freshly made in your bathtub, all the better. (Here’s a recipe if you want to give it a try.)

And, since I’ve been writing all week about literary journals, I thought I’d offer a gift in honor of my friend F. Scott: I will buy ONE person a free subscription to one of my favorite literary magazines, The Sun. It’s not exactly a journal, but it’s a richly dark magazine of fiction, poetry, essays, photography, and interviews, and is still independently published, with no advertising. Send me an email with a header of “The Sun” and your full mailing address by 5 pm EST Saturday, September 26, 2009, and I’ll randomly select one person to get a 12-month subscription. You must include your address or I’m going to have to exclude you from the drawing. No fine print—no sharing of even one smidge of your information—just 12 free issues of The Sun for one person in honor of Scott's birthday!

And now, in case you need a quick reminder of why we all love Scott so dearly:

“I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others—poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner—young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.” ~from The Great Gatsby

Here’s a picture of the house in St. Paul where Fitzgerald was born and some tidbits about the neighbors: “This was the home of one of Scott's best friends, Marie Hersey. Scott fell in love with her cousin, Ginevra King, when he was eleven, and he kept in contact with both girls through college. When Scott and Zelda were first married, Scott objected to Zelda's fluffy Southern style wardrobe. He asked Marie to help Zelda choose clothing more appropriate to New York City.”

And here’s a funny story about when Fitzgerald met James Joyce:

“…in 1928 Sylvia Beach hosted a dinner party in order that F. Scott Fitzgerald, who "worshipped James Joyce, but was afraid to approach him," might do so. Out of nervousness or champagne, Fitzgerald greeted his hero by dropping down on one knee, kissing his hand, and declaring, "How does it feel to be a great genius, Sir? I am so excited at seeing you, Sir, that I could weep."”

And that’s how I feel about you, Mr. Fitzgerald…Sir, I could weep!

More on TriQuarterly

Doing due diligence, I will offer this link to the official press release about the demise of Northwestern’s fine literary journal, TriQuarterly. You can read it here for another side of the story. I should have included a link to it in yesterday's post.

But I still don’t find anything to cheer about in terminating the jobs of two excellent, dedicated, professional editors and sending a legendary journal—along with its publishing history and prestige—off to be a student-run, online journal. There’s certainly nothing wrong with either online or student-run journals…but why must this new one have the same title as the “real” TriQuarterly? (Yes, yes, I understand that TriQuarterly originally started as a student-run journal, but did anyone think it was a step backward when the pros started running things?)

It was rather controversial years ago when Story magazine decided to simply stop publishing rather than sell the name and continue on in a way that may or may not have been representative of that journal’s storied (sorry!) past…but I can see the case for that action. I suppose only time will tell if this new iteration of TriQuarterly will do justice to the past and to a journal that has published some real literary heavyweights in its pages: Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, Amy Hempel, Charles Baxter, and Tobias Wolff.

Note on my possible biases: I graduated from Northwestern University, and I’ve been honored to have had two stories published in TriQuarterly…the PRINT version.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why We Read Literary Journals: "Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre"

To balance the sad news below about TriQuarterly, I’ll focus briefly on what literary journals do best: bring great work forward and introduce readers to writers they may not be familiar with.

I’ve always liked the concept and execution of One Story, which prints one story per issue (a subscription gets you 18 issues spread throughout the year). The issues are small and thin, very portable, so I often find myself grabbing one when I’m headed somewhere on the metro or think I may be sitting at a restaurant table waiting for someone.

Recently, I grabbed Issue Number 124, featuring “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre” by Seth Fried and started reading on the metro. I almost missed my stop because I was so engrossed in my reading.

I can’t imagine anyone not being hooked by this first line: “Last year, the people in charge of the picnic blew us up.” And the second is even more delicious: “Every year it gets worse.” The kicker comes next: “That is, more people die.” How could anyone not read on?

The story is told in the collective first person—“we”—as we learn more about this horrific annual town picnic and the citizens who are unable to simply stay home despite the laugh out-loud, freakish deaths that decimate picnickers:

“One year, the muskets of the Revolutionary War Reenactment Society were somehow packed with live ammunition. Another year, all the children who played in the picnic’s Bouncy Castle died of radiation poisoning. Yet another year, it was discovered halfway through the picnic that a third of the port-a-potties contained poisonous snakes. The year we were offered free hot air balloon rides, none of the balloons that left—containing people laughing and waving from the baskets, snapping pictures as they ascended—ever returned.”

None of this is funny…and yet it is.

Of course, it’s also ominous. Why do people keep attending this picnic? Will things get worse? What’s worse than this? This story reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”—that grim, that frightening, that classic. (Best American Short Stories editor, are you listening?)

You can read an interview with author Seth Fried here (as well as find out how to get a copy of the issue or a subscription).

Interview excerpt:
The last scene is very dramatic and menacing. What did you want readers to leave this story with?
If any of the anxieties expressed in this story are familiar to readers, I hope that readers will take comfort in seeing those anxieties on the page. I always feel relieved when I read a story and the author is expressing some concern about the world that I share. It’s cathartic. That’s the level of communication that I’m always hoping for whether I’m reading a story or writing one.

And you can learn more about Seth Fried on his blog, found here. (Warning to fragile psyches: You will learn that Seth is only 26 years old!)

TriQuarterly to Be Shut Down

I found out yesterday that Northwestern University’s fine literary journal TriQuarterly (where two of my stories have appeared) is being shut down. Following are the details, as found in an email forwarded to me by a friend. This development is truly unfortunate, and it seems as though the powers that be didn’t handle this situation well AT ALL.

"I just wanted you all know that as of spring 2010 after forty-five years TriQuarterly magazine will cease to exist. Susan Hahn and myself were notified of this fact yesterday just hours before the press release announcing the decision was sent out.

"After terminating TriQuarterly’s print operation and our editorial positions next April, Northwestern University will be giving the name TriQuarterly to an online “open source” student-run journal in the university’s department of continuing studies. While this decision was made without our prior knowledge and without our input, we had been approached at one point about turning the journal into an online entity, and we suggested at the time that we did not believe that TriQuarterly as we have known it would survive, much less thrive, in that format.

"We will be putting out two last issues: our forty-fifth anniversary issue (forty-five is sapphire) and our last issue to be guest-edited by Edward Hirsch.

"In the meantime we will be posting tributes to some of the great issues of the last four and a half decades on our blog TriQuarterly To-day, beginning later this week with our first issue, fall 1964, featuring Leslie Fielder, Stephen Spender, Lionel Trilling, and Richard Brautigan.

"Susan and I would like to thank the entire CLMP community for the support, advice, and friendship you have given us over the years.

Best wishes to all,
Ian Morris
Associate Editor, TriQuarterly"

Here's the link to the TriQuarterly blog: http://triquarterlyto-day.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lit Journal Complaints & Compliments

I’m not sure I can buy into this recent literary journal initiative, even knowing the tough economic climate and that putting out a journal costs $$ that has to come from somewhere:

--Glimmer Train, a journal that I tend to view favorably, just sent out an email announcing a contest for “Best Starts.” That’s right—you don’t need to cope with the bothersome challenge of actually finishing your story…just come up with a good beginning.

That seemed weird to me, though not cause for undue alarm until I saw who the contest is geared to and what the prize is. Here are the rules taken exactly from their email message:

“Best Start (not to exceed 1,000 words)

Prizes:
The 50 most engaging pieces will each win $50 and make Glimmer Train's Best Start list, which will be announced in our December bulletin as well as on other major blogs for writers.

Other considerations: Reading fee is $10 per piece. Open only to new writers whose fiction has not appeared in a nationally distributed print publication with a circulation over 3,000.”

In short, this well-respected journal is asking writers to pay $10 in the hope of being one of the 50 best “starts” which will then get them $50. I think there’s a reason this is being pitched to beginning writers…because they may not know that this is one step away from a scam. It’s hard to write a real “beginning-middle-end” story (though I might suggest that's what a fiction "writer" does), but who doesn’t think they can’t slap together a great beginning? And then what? This is a line on your c.v.: “One of 50 great story beginnings”?

Also, I have to note that printing a real “beginning-middle-end” story takes a lot more pages and commitment than just listing 50 names and titles in a bulletin and press release.

If you want to read more (or enter; hey, no judgments here!), here are the details. The deadline is September 30…but, obviously this contest is a moneymaker, as it seems to run four times a year.

--Okay, now that I’ll never see my work in Glimmer Train, I’ll say something nice about the submission process at Fence. I also recently received an email from this excellent journal and saw this:

“Hi. We're going to be opening up our Submissions Orifice on October 1--AND CLOSING IT AGAIN ON OCTOBER 30. We're changing over to a one-month reading period in an attempt to handle the pretty unmanageable volume of submissions we currently receive. We'll have another reading period in the spring.”

I know that there are other journals that have short submission periods, and I have to say that as a writer, I appreciate that system, especially since this particular journal notifies interested parties in advance. If it makes for quicker turn-arounds and happier editors who aren’t constantly beating back a flood of stories, I’m all for it.

More information about Fence--including the opportunity to sign up for the free newsletter--can be found here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Our Trip to Chicago...

…did not disappoint! Some highlights:

--Stuffed spinach pizza at Edwardo’s.

--Fannie May candies…a box of Pixies, to be specific!

--Incredible weather, the kind of blue sky, crispish fall days that make people think they could really live there.

--Research for my novel at the fabulous Chicago History Museum; wearing white cotton gloves to handle early 20th century family photographs once belonging to Lucy McCormick Blair Linn (founder of Chicago’s Junior League).

--A walking tour about Chicago icon Daniel Burnham’s life (all 12 people on the tour had read The Devil in the White City).

--Silky veal marsala at La Scarola.

--A Schlitz at the Billy Goat Tavern. (Guy next to me: “I haven’t had a Schlitz in 20 years.”)

--Romantic French dinner at Les Nomades…lovely wine selection.

--An 11:00 AM Italian beef sandwich at Al’s Beef before heading out to O'Hare for the trip home.

And one regret: no chance for a Chicago hot dog at Gold Coast Dogs. Alas.

Winter Wheat: The Mid-American Review Festival of Writing

Here’s a message from the Mid-American Review. Sounds like a nice conference at the right price, with opportunities to present a session:

We just wanted to drop a note announcing the 2009 Winter Wheat dates and lineup. Winter Wheat this year will take place on the campus of Bowling Green State University in Northwest Ohio on November 12-14. The festival is free of charge (though donations are accepted) and everyone is invited.

The event will kick off with a reading by Pamela Painter on the night of November 12 and continue on through the weekend. Other featured guests include poets Bruce Cohen and Khaled Mattawa.

In addition to these readings, the festival will also feature an array of panels and sessions, covering everything from basic writing tips, to homages to particular writers, to generative exercises where your own creativity will be sparked. Other events, including an open mic to end the festival, will also be on the itinerary.

We are actually looking for panel/session proposals from anyone interested in presenting on any writing-related topic. To share your interest or expertise and propose a session topic, write festival coordinator Karen Craigo at karenka@bgsu.edu as soon as you can, or visit or visit the Winter Wheat page of our website:
www.bgsu.edu/studentlife/organizations/midamericanreview/wwhome08.html

Anyone interested in more information on the festival can also write to Karen at the address above.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Work in Progress: Fabulous Soup Recipe

I haven’t posted a recipe for a while, so while I'm away, here’s something yummy I made on Monday: Fiery Tofu and Coconut Curry Soup, from Cooking Light magazine. Vegetarian and—correct me if I’m wrong—vegan, too.

Here’s the direct link if you’d like to print it out uncluttered by my “helpful” suggestions italics (you can also get nutritional information).

Note: This soup is quite spicy, though I suppose you can temper the heat level by adding less of the curry paste.

Fiery Tofu and Coconut Curry Soup

Ingredients
2 tablespoons canola oil (vegetable oil is fine)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup red curry paste (I used a Taste of Thai packet; if you squeeze hard to extract every last bit, that will be about ¼ cup)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 (13.5-ounce) cans light coconut milk (if you don’t care about calories etc., I’m sure this would be fabulous with regular coconut milk)
2 1/2 cups organic vegetable broth (2 cups = 1 can, so I just added water for the remaining ½ cup)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/4 cup thinly sliced peeled fresh ginger (I roughly chopped the slices; not as pretty, not as scary as eating giant slices of ginger)
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 cups thinly sliced carrot (about 4)
1 1/2 cups (1-inch) pieces green beans (8 ounces) (don't know why frozen wouldn't work)
1 (14-ounce) package water-packed soft tofu, drained and cut into (1-inch) cubes
3/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Preparation
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic to pan; sauté 30 seconds or until lightly browned. Add curry paste; sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add brown sugar; cook 1 minute. Stir in coconut milk, broth, juice, ginger, and soy sauce. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 1 hour. Add carrot; cook for 6 minutes. Add beans, and cook 4 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Add tofu to pan, and cook 2 minutes. Garnish with cilantro leaves. 6 servings.

Note: This tastes great the next day, but the beans and cilantro lose their color, so if you were making this ahead to serve to people, I’d suggest stopping before adding the beans. Before serving, reheat, and then proceed with the beans, tofu, cilantro.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Poetry of Baseball

I love when sports and art intersect, which isn’t often enough. My sister sent me this beautiful meditation on the role of baseball and poetry, published in the September issue of Poetry magazine, written by major leaguer Fernando Perez (he’s an outfielder for the Tampa Bay Rays, but he previously played for the minor league team in her town).

Enticing excerpt:

“Like poetry, baseball is a kind of counter culture. The (optional) isolation from the outside world (which I often opt for); the idleness about which—and out of which—so many poems are written or sung: I see this state of mind as a blessing. Sometimes, in fact, when I haven’t turned on a television or touched a newspaper for months, freed from the corporate bombast, poetry is the only dialect I recognize.”

Here’s his bio from the Poetry Foundation’s press release:

“Perez is a graduate of Columbia University in New York City, where he received a degree in American studies and completed the creative writing program. He joined the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 and was one of six Ivy Leaguers to be appointed to the roster of Major League Baseball teams in the 2009 season. A longtime reader of contemporary poetry, Perez has named Robert Creeley and John Ashbery among his favorite poets.”

And speaking of baseball and art…go, Red Sox!

No, actually, take note that The Southern Review is reading fiction, essays, and poems for an upcoming baseball issue. Details are here; the deadline is November 1, 2009. Batter up!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Recommended Reading: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

I recently read The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist, and highly recommend this novel, though it may give you nightmares, especially if you’re a woman, and especially if you’re a woman of “a certain age.” While the premise may sound sort of sci-fi, be assured that this is a beautifully written book, nicely paced and enthralling.

Basically, this Swedish society has determined that women who reach their fiftieth birthday and aren’t married with kids; who aren’t “needed”—or involved in important helping professions—or rich celebrities—get sent off to The Unit, where they live in idyllic luxury while undergoing medical and psychological experimentation until their organs are finally harvested and given to some mother with four kids who really, really, really needs those lungs. (Men get to stay out in the world until they’re sixty.) There’s no big “reveal” where Dorrit learns this is her fate; everyone knows the set-up from the beginning.

The relationships that develop within the Unit are beautiful and complicated, as is the exploration of what’s been left behind—dog lovers, prepare to weep—and the implications of living within this “paradise”. The political angles are sharp yet subtle, the bigger questions raised are uncomfortable, and if you think there’s no way someone can possibly write a satisfying ending to such a set-up…well, you’d definitely lose that bet in my assessment.

A smart, haunting book: if you liked Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, you’ll probably also like this one.

Here’s a sample from Chapter 2:

“I didn’t cry until I said good-bye Jock, my dog; we’d been so close for so many years. He’s a Danish-Swedish farm dog, white with black and brown patches, brown eyes, and ears that are as soft as velvet, one black and one white. I gave him to a family I knew and trusted, not far from where I lived. Lisa and Sten and their three children. They’ve got a smallholding with horses and chickens, and they were very fond of Jock. The children loved him. I knew he liked them too, and that he’d have a good life there. But even so. He was mine, after all. And I was his. Between him and ne you really could—without committing perjury—talk about love. The feeling was mutual, I ‘m, convinced of that. But dogs don’t count; a dog’s dependence and devotion are not enough. And it was when I had left Jock at Sten and Lisa’s and I was driving away that I wept.”

And here’s the review from the Washington Post that brought the book to my attention. (Yes, publishers, reviews DO still sell books: please support book review sections with your advertising!)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pretty Up Your P's and Q's

This Slate article about handwriting was interesting. Apparently, the tidy handwriting of the once-famous Palmer method is pretty much on its way to being a lost art, but there are ways to learn to improve your writing style:

“Still, my daughter and I found the motivation to continue Barchowsky's program. Slowly over the 10 weeks it took us, the improvements started to become part of our unconscious handwriting. True, no bride would hire us to address her wedding invitations, but by the end we were both astonished at our progress. My daughter said, "I was embarrassed by my old handwriting; now I'm not. I used to hate it in class if I couldn't use the computer because my writing was such a scribble."

Read the article—and see the before and after samples, which are notable—here.

Why No Poetry in The Washington Post?

The Washington Post did away with Sunday’s Book World section several months ago, and it seems they’ve also done away with poetry. DC poet Sarah Browning has been keeping track of the poetry “coverage” and has concluded it’s pretty non-existent in the print edition. She’s written a letter to the Post and encourages others to do the same. Here’s an excerpt from her letter:

“I have carefully checked each of the past six Calendars in the print edition and not a single poetry reading was listed in any of them. Are the compilers aware of the large, vibrant, diverse, and growing audience at poetry events throughout the District and its surroundings? … Yes, the online literary calendar lists more events, including poetry readings. But that listing is hard to find on the website and even the link listed in the print edition is wrong. …Then there’s Poet’s Choice. The new print edition Book World doesn’t even include the web address of Poet’s Choice, doesn’t even mention it.”

I confess that I didn’t even know that Poet’s Choice—which I always enjoyed reading in the print version—still existed online.

Read the rest of Sarah’s letter here, and find out how to contact the Washington Post yourself.

And here’s this week’s Poet’s Choice. (Ugh to the horrible layout.)

Job Opening in Chicago

This is one comprehensive job listing, so clearly, they’ve thought about what they want…maybe it’s you!


Managing Director, The Guild Complex

The Guild Complex, a Chicago community-based organization, presents literary events that feature emerging and underrepresented voices. The Guild Complex's innovative programming includes performances and readings that focus on marginalized voices. We look at literary culture and ask, what's missing?

The Guild Complex is a resourceful and collaborative organization that is proud of the traditions of literary excellence and community-based events established by Guild Books. This legacy has been carried on through provocative and eclectic programs for 20 years. Since its formation, the Guild Complex has established itself, in the words of the Illinois Arts Council, as Chicago's premiere literary center. The Complex has twice been selected as a model literary center by the National Endowment for the Arts.

We have recently completed a very successful board development effort and significantly increased the size of the board. In addition we are in the process of completing a detailed Long Range Plan for the organization.

Reports To: Executive Committee

Responsibilities:
Managing Director is a full-time position (40 hours/week) that is responsible for the excellent execution of all day-to-day activities. This includes planning and staging all events, fund raising, especially grant writing, all administrative duties, and working with the board to continue to find ways to advance the mission of the organization. At this time the Managing Director is the only paid staff member and operates in a virtual work environment from the Managing Director's home.The primary responsibilities for the Managing Director are:

FUND RAISING. As grants are an essential source of the Guild Complex's income, one of the key duties of the Managing Director is grant writing. She/He will be responsible for maintaining good relationships with key foundations and government agencies, submitting grants, following up on inquiries, researching and cultivating new grant opportunities.The Managing Director, in concert with the Board of Directors, and the Fund raising Committee, organizes and strategizes all fund raising activities related to generating contributed income. This includes: individual donor efforts, direct mail campaigns, and in-person solicitations; corporate sponsorships and special events. The Managing Director will provide the leadership, strategic direction, management and coordination for all fund raising efforts. She/He will work closely with the Board President and the Fund raising Committee to create fund raising strategies that increase the organization's support from individuals, corporations, foundations, and other sources.

BOARD RELATIONS. In concert with the Executive Committee, the Managing Director consults with and advises the Board and its committees on matters of policy and assists in the general organization and effectiveness of the Board; She/He reports to the Board regularly on the financial status and operations of the organization and is a member of the Programming, Fund raising, Finance, Marketing and Governance Committees. The Managing Director, in concert with the Board Development Committee, helps to identify and recruit new Board members.

MARKETING/PUBLIC RELATIONS. The Managing Director, in concert with the Marketing Committee, writes, oversees, and approves all materials (including press releases, flyers, direct mail pieces, e-blasts and website communication) for the marketing, publicity, and advertising of all programs. She/He is a member of the Marketing Committee.

FINANCE. The Managing Director oversees all financial matters; plans, creates, modifies, and tracks the annual budget with the input from the Board President and Treasurer and the approval of the Board of Directors. She/He develops and implements budgetary control systems; approves all expenses and supervises purchasing consistent with approved budgets and policies; generates purchasing and payroll disbursements; analyzes, reviews, and assures the accurate preparation of reports for outside agencies, management, and the Board; manages cash flow; plots financial strategy; and works with the accounting firm on annual audits.

PROGRAMMING. The Managing Director, in concert with various program curators, is responsible for the execution of all programming. (In 2009, almost 30 events were presented.) This includes:
• Identifying and securing partnerships. Working with partners to share expenses, programming direction, publicity, etc.
• Sending contracts to artists, negotiating honoraria, negotiating book sales, ordering books from distributors when necessary, ensuring that marketing materials are forwarded for promotion, paying artists, making sure all appropriate tax documentation is filled out and filed. (We feature approximately 60 artists annually with approximately half of them requiring contracts.)
• Booking and paying for flights and hotels and coordinating local transport of artists.• Booking venues, reviewing and executing contracts. Booking and paying for artist dinners.
• Maintaining sound equipment and recording equipment. Transporting equipment, set up/break down at venues as needed.
• Drafting and maintaining annual calendar of events

GENERAL MANAGEMENT. The Managing Director manages all day-to-day administration; works with the Board President, partners and program curators to assure the effective execution of all events; acts as the ambassador of the Guild Complex to the general public; and provides significant input into the long-term direction and development of the organization. Some of the General Management responsibilities include:
Vendor Relations/Contracts:
• Negotiate contract terms. Make sure all appropriate tax documentation is filed.
• Maintain records of all vendor contracts. Make sure all payments are timely and are accounted for in the Guild Complex's cash flow.

Maintaining files:
• Retain information for funder files, employment files, accounting files, program files, etc., then makes sure that updated information is maintained in a useful and accessible manner.
• Maintain the employee handbook and the board of directors' manual – each of which needs annual updating.
Office management:
• Coordinate mailings of e-blasts and snail mail: postcards, appeals, etc.,
• Maintain and update all mailing lists: physical and electronic.
• Buy office supplies.
Specific tasks include:
• Generate annual budget in partnership with Executive Committee (Multiple drafts). Once annual budget is approved, distill the managing budget into a summary form for funders and other publics.
• Generate cash flow budget from the managing budget. Provide quarterly updates of cash flow, compare to budget and recommend adjustments as necessary.
• Responsible for all Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable
• Maintain accurate and easily accessible Quickbooks records.
• Issue annual 1099s and W-2s
• Pay bi-weekly payroll.
• Work with accountant in preparation of the annual audit.

REQUIRED SKILLS
Extensive grant writing experience (writing samples will be part of interview process)
Hands-on experience running a small, grass-roots organization
501(c)3 experience
Excellent problem solving skills
Excellent communication and team-building skills.
Individual fund raising experience
Self motivated with a proven ability to meet deadlines
Computer literacy is required

PREFERRED
Experience in arts management
Experience in communications and marketing, including social media
Corporate fund raising a plus

Ideal Experience: The ideal candidate will have the following experience and qualifications:
• At least five to seven years of proven experience running a small, grass roots, nonprofit organization.
• Demonstrated experience in managing budgets; ability to work in a hands-on environment with modest resources;
• Ability to effectively gain the respect and support of various constituencies, including board and staff members, curators, venue owners and managers, donors and foundations and civic leaders;
• A successful track record of grant writing and building a diversified revenue stream.
• An experienced, effective communicator
• Bachelor's degree.

Personal Qualities: The Managing Director will be:
• Enthusiastic;
• Highly entrepreneurial, resourceful and flexible;
• A strategist who is adept at planning, prioritizing, multitasking, organizing and following through while remaining energetic and focused;
• A team builder with strong skills in management and leadership;
• A catalyst with vision who can create excitement and energy around the Guild Complex programs and encourage others to support the organization -- persuasive, persistent, and determined in the pursuit of the organization's goals;
• Straightforward, self-motivated, and diplomatic -- sharing information readily, listening as well as giving advice and respecting the abilities of others;
• Energetic and willing to work hands-on in developing and executing a variety of fund raising activities; and
• Emotionally mature with a sense of humor to maintain balance.

Benefits:
Health Insurance Coverage
Paid Vacation

Reviews: Performance reviews scheduled annually.
Compensation: $35,000 to $38,000/year depending on experience

To Apply: Send cover letter and resume to:
The Guild Complex
PO Box 478880
Chicago, IL 60647-9998
mpuican@ameritech.net

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Work in Progress: Why Critiques Are Valuable

No, not reading a critique of your own work…writing one of someone else’s piece. Surely every workshop student/writing group member has had the experience of taking home the written critiques after a discussion of their work, rereading them, pondering them, and then coming up with the wonderful revision that addresses those concerns but beautifully and magically transcends the tedious “check—I fixed everything you told me to” trap.

Obviously, critiques of our own work are often quite valuable. But what about all those weeks in workshop where you’re trudging through everyone else’s work, writing your de rigueur 1-2 pages about what’s working and what isn’t? Is that valuable to you, or simply what you do as part of the price you pay because you want them to do it for you? What about spending time and energy teaching and critiquing, when you might be applying that time and energy to your own writing?

I write many critiques throughout the year—and years—but just now I’ve come off about 10 intense days where I critiqued a 300-page novel manuscript, three separate 30-page chapters for my writing group, and four 20ish page stories/chapters for my low-res MFA students at Converse College. Of course I won’t go into any details whatsoever about their work specifically (and any example I use here is entirely fictional or is based on my own writing), but the experience has left me thinking positively—and dare I say fondly?—about the process of the critique.

As I read someone’s manuscript, it’s so easy to think, “oh, this isn’t working,” but much harder to figure out why it isn’t working—and then even harder to be able to articulate my precise feelings as to why. In this batch of critiques, with the exception of the writing group critiques, I do not have the benefit of shared group discussion about the manuscripts, so it’s crucial that the critique fully outline my thoughts and support my points through examples. It’s also important to be able to base comments not only in terms of “what’s working/isn’t working,” but to also be able to bring up principles of writing as needed: why shifting points of view is disorienting, the balance of summary and scene, my world-famous dialogue trick that really, really works (sorry, you’ll have to take a class with me to learn what it is, but I promise you it’s amazing!).

What I often find is that though I have a strong sense of the areas that could be improved as I read, it isn’t until I sit down at the computer to write the critique that I really start to see the bigger picture of the story; writing the comments in the margins and taking notes as I read is like hacking through a forest. Once the path is cleared and some sunlight comes in, that’s when I can examine those larger issues: structure, meaningfulness, which elements are crucial, and so on.

In short, I discover the potential of the story in the act of writing about it. (Which isn’t that surprising…as a writer, I turn to writing to sort through just about any issue.) And discovering what makes other pieces tick helps me take apart my own work. When you spend a lot of time thinking about exactly what elements are needed in the first chapter of a novel to draw in the reader, it’s much easier to see that your own first chapter is sadly lacking some of those elements. When you see someone taking an interesting chance on point of view—and making it work; why? How?—you think that maybe you can shake up your writing a bit too.

Critiquing reminds me that writing is the way through to the other side: if you don’t quite know something, you will…but only if you sit down and write about it, whether it’s the answer why X’s story isn’t working, or the answer to what will happen next in your own novel. For me, the answer to any question whatsoever is, without fail, “writing”: write about it.

The act of critiquing also reminds us to be humble. “Admit you are powerless before the word,” said Francine Prose, and I’ve read works-in-progress that has taken my breath away, either in total, or a paragraph, or a scene, or even simply one perfectly-chosen word, and sometimes these moments come from the student you’d least expect to produce something so wonderful. That’s inspiring.

And it’s never far from my mind that I could be missing something entirely—or be entirely wrong in my assessment and suggestions. We’ve all heard those stories: “My teacher told me to take the uncle out of the story and change it from Florida to New York and tell it in the past tense not the present, but I didn’t, and it got published and will be in the next Best American Short Stories.” Ah, well…just how it goes sometimes, and it doesn’t mean that teacher was necessarily “wrong,” as it’s all subjective. Still. It’s an exciting internal tension.

Finally, like most writers, I love books and love reading, and I especially love nothing more than to be totally lost in a good book. Consequently, it’s often hard for me to read as a “writer,” picking everything apart. When I have precious time to read now, I just want to escape and enjoy, I want to be moved and enthralled; I generally don’t want to analyze every page of the published novel I’ve just picked up. Reading in manuscript form, though, sparks my critical thinking: this isn’t escape, this is a writer working to help another writer, and, happily, in the process selfishly helping herself, too. We know it can always, always be better—but how?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Where to Escape in Virginia

I’ve written many times about how much I love the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (VCCA), a writers’ colony in southwest Virginia, that inspires a frenzy of creative output within incredibly restful circumstances. I happily urge all to apply for a fellowship (details here), and there’s still time to apply for the Feb-May 2010 session. Of course, the deadline for doing so is fast-approaching: September 15, 2009.

And therein lies the only teeny-tiny problem with VCCA: sometimes you don’t know by September 15 that you might be ready for and desperately need a writing retreat in May.

So I was pleased to get a very positive, firsthand report from a friend about another option in Virginia: The Porches.

From the website: “The Porches writing retreat is an historic farmhouse built in 1854, overlooking the James River in rural Virginia. We are a half hour from the Appalachian Trail, 50 minutes from the the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, 1 hour from Richmond, 2 hours from Williamsburg and Jamestown, and 3 hours from Washington, D.C.”

I confess that I have no idea of how booked up the place gets, so perhaps a great deal of pre-planning actually is needed, though the website seems to offer hope for more flexible options:

“To reserve a room please e-mail (or send) a brief bio and description of your project. Request the availability of dates you would like to spend at the retreat. Once confirmed, it is our policy to request an advance deposit (half) sent two weeks before your residency. We are open to “last minute” reservations if there is availability.”

The two places are different in terms of size and scope—and there’s no financial assistance available at The Porches as there is at VCCA—but as always, it’s nice to have options.

The Porches website
VCCA website

Carl Sandburg Writing Residency

Residencies are obviously on my mind today. Here’s an opportunity that sounds great:

Carl Sandburg Writing Residency

Download the application packet for this residency at http://www.nps.gov/carl/parknews/upload/application-3.pdf

Mrs. Paula Sandburg first generated the idea of a writer-in-resident at Connemara when her family's North Carolina home became a unit of the National Park Service shortly after her husband's death in 1968. Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site is pleased to host its first Writer-in-Residence Program in March 2010.

This program offers poets an opportunity to live and work at Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. The three-week residency is scheduled for March 2010. Housing is offered in an historic cottage near the Sandburg Home, with a studio and stipend provided.

As part of the program, writers will be required to do two public programs, the first a short fifteen-minute presentation describing their work during a welcome reception. The second will be an outreach program to an audience of the writer's choice. Writers must also donate one original piece of their work to the park’s permanent museum collection, copyrights will remain with the writer.

The deadline for submissions is October 15,2009. Selection for the 2010 residency will be announced during the second week of December 2009.

This program is made possible through support from the Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara. For more information, contact the Education Coordinator at 828-693-4178.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why I Have to Miss Lorrie Moore's Reading in DC (see below)

Because I’ll be in Richmond having my own fun! If you’re in the area, please do stop by this event hosted by the James River Writers:

The Writing Show: Novel Help From Writing Groups

How a writing group can prepare writers to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November or write the novel of a lifetime anytime.

Featuring:
Carolyn Parkhurst, author of The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found.
Leslie Pietrzyk, author of Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day.
Susann Cokal, author of Mirabilis and Breath and Bones.

And your host Virginia Pye, JRW Co-Chair, poet and writer.

September 24, 6:30-8:30 PM
The Children's Museum of Richmond
2626 West Broad Street

$10 in advance/$12 at the door/$5 for students

For more information and online registration visit jamesriverwriters.org

Lorrie Moore Reading: 9/24

Fall is always the time for the “big” books, and Lorrie Moore’s first novel in fifteen years surely qualifies. If you’ve read her haunting short story “People Like That Are the Only People Here,” I suspect you’ll be anticipating this new book as well.

The reviews of The Gate at the Stairs that I’ve read have been raves:

--Washington Post: “But what's so endearing is Moore's ability to tempt us with humor into the surreal boundaries of human experience, those strange decisions that make no sense out of context, the things we can't believe anyone would do. The novel's climax takes us right into the disorienting logic of grief for a scene that's both horrifying and tender, a grotesque violation of taboos that's entirely forgivable and heartbreaking.”

--New York Times Book Review: “Great writers usually present us with mysteries, but the mystery Lorrie Moore presents consists of appearing genial, joshing and earnest at once — unmysterious, in other words, yet still great. She’s a discomfiting, sometimes even rageful writer, lurking in the disguise of an endearing one.”

All this background is leading to this: Lorrie Moore will be reading at Politics & Prose on Thursday, September 24. Mark your calendars, and get there early! This is sure to bring in a crowd.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Guest in Progress: Julie Wakeman-Linn

I’ve told you that Julie Wakeman-Linn is a bundle of energy: writer, teacher, editor, and conference organizer. (I'm guessing she also has a personal life!) You saw one side of the picture in her previous post–about putting together a do-it-yourself writer’s retreat—and here she explores another facet of her busy life: editing the Potomac Review.

This piece is adapted from a post on the Potomac Review blog, which you should check out. And after reading Julie’s piece, I’m sure you’ll be fired up to learn more about the Potomac Review:

--to read work published in the journal, go here
--to subscribe (only $20), go here
--to submit your work (electronic submissions accepted), go here
--main site: http://www.montgomerycollege.edu/potomacreview/


Advice on submitting to the Potomac Review
Open season on Editors; Open letter to contributors.


Fall is my favorite season, beautiful trees and lovely long walks; the academic year is beginning with all its possibilities. For the past four years, fall has also become the opening of the submission period or reading period for The Potomac Review.

Next Tuesday, I throw the switch and the online submission manager comes alive again. I both shudder and thrill at the thought of it. Why—a couple of clicks from all those eager writers and poets and my editors and I could be inundated. So here is my request and my advice – think about The Potomac Review before you click. Take a look at our website, lay your hands on a recent copy. Believe me –it has changed from 2005. We are no longer only regional but rather international in scope.

The next step if you want your work to rise out of the ranks of the electronic or paper slush is to craft your opening paragraph very very carefully. Give us a problem happening to a lifelike character right away. Hint at setting –no paragraphs of exposition or description. Ideally, your opening paragraph will be rewritten after the story’s ending is solid; think of it this way – does the opening take on new meaning, more layers when the story is finished? Does the ending “shed light all the way back to the beginning of the story?” (Thank you to my writing professors for that gem).

Think about the length of the story also. Long stories are harder to write and harder to publish. I find that most stories over 5000 words lose energy and focus, so trim, trim, trim. Watch out for strings of adjectives and preposition phrases gone rogue.

Cover letters are often the subject of much laughter in the offices of the Potomac Review and I’m afraid we laugh at them and not with them. Don’t address your letter to the previous editors—Eli and Christa are great people but they aren’t the ones reading your work. Do mention if you have read a story in the Potomac Review that you liked. We love it when you read us and of course, subscribe. If we have met you at one of our two terrific conferences, mention that.

Finally expect that the whole process takes time. Here’s an approximate timeline-- Your story arrives, in a week or two, it gets handed over to an associate editor who is also teaching and writing. The first read usually takes a month to go out and come back to me. If the associate editor likes the story, it makes its way to the ‘maybe’ editor who screens for me. She is very good and very quick. Then if she likes it, I take it over. I read it, mull it over, think about it, hand it around the office and read it again. Then even if I love it, I’m still thinking about the composition of the entire issue. This series of steps usually takes 4-5 months to give fair reading by multiple people. I may be crazy but I look at every story that comes in, even if it is just a glance.

If my editors and I are hooked by the first line, first paragraph, first page, we will keep reading, so work on those elements. I’m waiting for stories to thrill, challenge, or amuse me. Send them along. I love fall. ~~Julie Wakeman-Linn

About: Julie Wakeman-Linn, Editor in Chief of the Potomac Review, teaches at Montgomery College and writes in the moments around the grading and the editing. Her novel, Chasing the Leopard, was a finalist for the 2008 Bellwether Prize, and her short fiction has appeared in online and print journals including The Chimaera (http://www.the-chimaera.com/ ) and Enhanced Gravity (www.http://www.gargoylemagazine.com/books/paycock/paycock.htm)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Charles Baxter Asks 5 Questions

Charles Baxter is a wonderful writer and a legendary teacher of writing. I saw him speak as part of an AWP panel and my writing was transformed. Here’s a short piece from Glimmer Train that will show you what I mean:

"There are about five questions you can ask yourself about stories, and they're not foolproof, but they're useful. One is, what do these characters want? Second is, what are they afraid of? Third is, what's at stake in this story? Fourth is, what are the consequences of these scenes or these actions? And the last one is, how does the language of this story reflect the world of the story itself?"

Read the rest here.

Patience Is Not a Virtue

A journal that shall remain unnamed thoughtfully sent me a form rejection email of a piece I had submitted on September 5, 2008. Honestly…at this point, did they think I was holding my breath waiting to hear?

I say, six months is more than ample time. Yes, I KNOW these journals have mountains of submissions, and I KNOW they “read every one carefully.” But no one over here is getting any younger, so in general, if I haven’t heard in six months, I move on. I don’t even bother asking if they still have my ms. because most times I don’t even get a response to that inquiry.

The process is enough to make you crazy, and here’s a good place to blow off some steam: Literary Rejections on Display. Names are named....

Fellowship for Emerging Women Writers

The Vermont Studio Center is pleased to announce the continuation of The Rona Jaffe Foundation/Vermont Studio Center Fellowship. Now in its second year, this fellowship is intended to support the month-long residency of an emergent woman writer who will be a first-time resident at VSC. The fellowship covers full VSC residency fee and offers an additional stipend of $1,250 to help cover expenses associated with taking the residency, including but not limited to travel, rent, childcare or to replace lost income.

For the purposes of this Fellowship, emergent writers are defined as those who are as yet unpublished, or have begun publishing in literary journals, or who are just completing their first book. (Women writers who have published a standard trade edition of their work do not qualify for this fellowship.) All eligible writers of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction who are citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. will be considered for this Fellowship, which pays tribute to the memory of celebrated author Rona Jaffe (www.ronajaffefoundation.org)

The application deadline for The Rona Jaffe Foundation/Vermont Studio Center Fellowship is 10/1/09. To apply, download and fill out the Vermont Studio Center’s regular application form, check the “I am applying for a Special Fellowship Award” box on the first page, and write Rona Jaffe Fellowship on the “Award Name” line. Follow the application instructions and be sure all materials are RECEIVED at VSC by October1, 2009. Details are here: http://www.vermontstudiocenter.org/the-rona-jaffe-foundation-fellowship/

The winner of the first Rona Jaffe Foundation/Vermont Studio Center Fellowship was Rose Nash, of Wolcott, Vermont, who spent the month of June 2009 at the Studio Center. Rose received her B.A. and M.A. from Middlebury College. After graduating, she taught on a kibbutz in Israel for two years and then took a position teaching middle and high school English in Vermont. She is currently a writing specialist in the Learning Resource Center at Johnson State College. She is working on her first novel.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Beware of Cicadas

The latest issue of Poets & Writers had a short piece about how to submit work to Tin House, which is one of my favorite journals. There was the usual editorial information, and then this:

"What do you not want in a submission?
This is not particular to our submitters, but here’s the thing: For such a small insect, cicadas sure show up a lot in poetry and fiction. It sounds silly to take issue with it, but the point is that it smacks of device, which in turn interrupts the dream. Watch out for stuff like that."

I’m guilty, having included cicadas in more than one story (but I’m sure those aren't the cicadas they're talking about because I'm sure my cicadas work, haha)—but the larger point is useful: always to work hard to come up with the new, the fresh, the words unspoken.

You can’t always know these things, of course, but one helpful thing is to take any opportunity you can to read manuscript submissions for a journal or a contest. There you’ll see for yourself the swarms of cicadas or stories that start with the alarm clock ringing or how often female characters drink tea from mugs in the morning.

Speaking of Tin House, the journal is currently reading for an upcoming theme issue that sounds great: “Games People Play.”

From the website:
"We’re looking for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and interviews revolving around the idea of play and sport. From poker to mind games to soccer, we want unique voices and ideas about games, play, and sport, from the personal to the cultural, from the inside and the outside, positive and negative, from within big-business sports to profiles of privately obsessive participants in willfully obscure games. At this stage (of the game, race, rally, inning, hand, match, set, clash, etc.) we are open to suggestions. The deadline for unsolicited submissions to this theme issue will be November 1."

Details are here.

Sending a Snowflake through a Pine Board

The Anthologist, by one of my faves, Nicholson Baker, sounds interesting (and perhaps familiar): about a modern-day poet who's having problems writing. And I thought this Washington Post review by David Kirby contained a number of excellent writing tips within it:

With the concentration of a mohel, [protagonist] Chowder focuses on the mechanics of poetry and neglects what Emerson called "lustres," sparky images and aphorisms that pierce the seal set on the human spirit by time and care. "A snowflake will go through a pine board, if projected with force enough," Emerson wrote, and while meter may account for the force in much poetry, the snowflake is just as necessary.

Write a Mouthful

Mmmm…my favorite topic:

Alimentum publishes fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry all around the subject of food. Alimentum is the only literary journal all about food. Submissions open September 1, 2009 and closes December 1, 2009.

http://www.alimentumjournal.com/submissions.html

Additionally, the journal has a poetry contest:

Submit up to 3 unpublished poems related to the subject of food or drink. Five-poem limit on poetry submissions. Do not consider previously published work. $15 entry fee which includes a one-year subscription. Snail mail only.

First prize $500 and publication for a single poem.

Send to:
Alimentum Poetry Contest
PO Box 210028
Nashville, TN 37221

Deadline: December, 1, 2009

Work-in-Progress

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